The Shift

by Bill Kenower

This month in Author we are featuring interviews with two non-fiction authors, both of whom, I believe, are carrying a useful and timely message. 

Daniel Pink’s book Drive takes a scientific look at motivation. What he found, lo and behold, was that people are ultimately less motivated by money and safety than they are by an internal desire for mastery and progress. Sound familiar? While his book is aimed theoretically at the business world, I chose to interview Daniel because I felt his work and all that he has learned is directly applicable to writers. Writing is all about motivation, and the more you understand the source of that motivation, the better your work will be, and the happier you will be doing it.

Sir Ken Robinson is an academic (a PhD., to be precise) who has written a book, The Element, that says the academic model for learning—fact and reason-based learning—is outdated and far too narrow in its application. More important, he believes, is that an individual find his or her element, the sweet spot that combines love and creativity and work. Sometimes the element can be found within the academic model and sometimes it can’t. Too often, he feels, those people whose element lies outside of the academic model are discouraged and criticized when trying to pursue the thing they love most. 

Both of these books address what I feel is a paradigm shift, a shift perhaps as important as that which took place during The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment introduced the west to scientific thought, and as a result we experienced an unprecedented explosion of wealth, art, and invention. As a result of this expansion, scientific thought—that is, external and evidence-based—became seen as the highest and purest form of decision making, uncluttered as it was by superstition. But scientific thought has profound limitations. Namely, scientific thinking can tell us how to do something, but it cannot tell us what to do. Scientific thinking can tell us how to get to the moon or build a computer, but it cannot tell you who to love or what career to choose or even what shirt to wear. The choice of what to do, which is all our lives are, comes from a different part of us—a place we might call our heart, or our soul, or right brain, or whatever pleases you—but it certainly does not come from the part of our brain that organizes information and solves problems.

I am not a revolutionary and this is not a revolutionary magazine. It is a magazine for writers and about writing and creativity and also how best to live our lives while writing. But writers live in the world, and that world feeds and influences us. The scientific paradigm of thought that has so dominated the history of the world for the last few centuries must be kept in perspective. We are not organic machines busily going about the business of not-dying for as long as possible. If we are to believe the work of Daniel Pink and Sir Ken Robinson, survival, that most mechanistic of all instincts, is but a base platform upon which our true purpose is built. 

We are not here merely to live but to create, and to create from a place of love. Science, Daniel Pink would argue, is now pointing to that very concept. I love science and all that it was given me. This magazine wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for science. But I love the human heart far more. The shift these two men are pointing to was inevitable. Every mountain that has ever been climbed, every war that has ever been fought, every building that has ever been built has been climbed, fought or built with but one goal in mind: that the human heart might be at peace with itself. That our search took us from mysticism to skepticism and now to humanism is not surprising. We are always guided back to the same place, the well from which all happiness springs, and from which all stories are told.

Bill Kenower is Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine and a full-time freelance writer. He lives in Seattle.

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