Sir Ken Robinson Was Right


Every semester for the past several years I have shown my students the Ken Robinson TED talk on how schools kill creativity. One of my favorite parts of the talk is where he talks about how women are better at multitasking, and uses his wife as an example.

“…if she’s cooking, you know, she’s dealing with people on the phone, she’s talking to the kids, she’s painting the ceiling, she’s doing open-heart surgery over here. If I’m cooking, the door is shut, the kids are out, the phone’s on the hook, if she comes in I get annoyed. I say, “Terry, please, I’m trying to fry an egg in here. Give me a break.”

I still laugh every time I hear the line, as do my students.

But last night it hit home.

It was my youngest son’s birthday (Happy Birthday Pat!) and my wife was preparing a special meal for him. She was busy in the kitchen cooking London Broil for our son, crab cakes for herself, along with mashed potatoes and crescent rolls. At the same time she was cooking this variety of items, she was also putting together a root beer taste test using multicolored index cards and separate serving trays for each of us. And as if all that was not enough, she was also having a texting conversation on her phone.

In the meantime, I was responsible for making my own meal, which consisted of simply heating up some noodles and vegetables in the microwave (yes, we all have unique dietary habits). As I was walking towards the microwave to pop my food in, my wife got to the oven before me to check the London Broil. So I had to wait for about 20 seconds until I could put my food in the microwave. While I was waiting, I was getting annoyed with the fact that my wife didn’t realize the importance of what I had to do to prepare my dinner.

Then once we sat down to eat, it struck me. I was living proof of what Ken Robinson was talking about. And as I thought about it a bit more, I realized it had been happening right in front of me for quite some time, and I was never aware of it (I was probably too focused on the one thing I was probably trying to accomplish at the time).

My wife can be watching TV, texting with her sister, answering an email, reading a book, finalizing her lesson plans, creating her weekly newsletter for parents, and making play-doh, all at the same time.

Meanwhile, when it is time for me to write my blog, I sit staring at my computer trying to block out every possible distraction. I wish I could listen to music while I am at my computer doing work, but I’ve tried, and I  just can’t do it. If I get a phone call, I have to walk out to another room to have the conversation.

Given women’s ability to multitask so well (here’s proof), it makes it even more surprising that there aren’t more women in positions of leadership in business and politics.

Leaders today require the ability handle crises of all types, coming at  them all at once from a variety of directions.

Politicians need to deal with problems in the Middle East, terrorists in France, immigration issues at home, and difficulties in dealing with members of the opposition party.

Business executives need to deal with new products from competitors, working with unions, responding to changes in regulations, and the pressures from Wall Street to deliver outstanding financial performance.

My wife would be perfect for either job.

And here’s an early shout out to Hillary.

And by the way, all three of us picked a different root beer as our favorite – I went with Hank’s, my wife picked IBC, and my son chose Stewart’s.

4 thoughts on “Sir Ken Robinson Was Right

  1. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. So so so true. I’m pretty sure my husband would be right there with you lauding my ability to do 7 things at once, while recognizing his deep need to minimize as many distractions as possible. Am forwarding this blog to him today.


  2. Jim,
    I enjoyed your post, and I’m the first to praise the under appreciated strength of women, but I wouldn’t say this is 100% true–my wife would agree that I am better at multi-tasking than she is. Her strength is concentration–she can focus intently on a problem or an activity for hours at a time, much longer than I can. Just thought I’d offer a contrasting data point.
    Interesting comments on multi-tasking and intellectual development in today’s Fresh Air: Terry’s guest Francis Jensen (“The Teenage Brain”) said that our current generation is the first to grow up dealing with the constant overstimulation of cell phones, games, twitter, etc. That “experiment” isn’t complete (they’re not adults yet) but it’s possible that they are developing mental skills not seen before, in the same way that the ability to read is a fairly new (200-300 years) development.


Comments are closed.