Gillian Lynne was considered a problem child.
She did terribly in school. She couldn’t sit still, let alone focus. She was so hyperactive that people would call her Wriggle Bottom.
This was the 1930s in Britain, and the acronym ADHD didn’t exist. Concerned that her child had a disorder, her mother took her to see a doctor.
That doctor’s visit would radically change the course of Lynne’s life.
What’s important is what the doctor did not do. He didn’t label Lynne as “difficult.” He didn’t tell her to calm down. He didn’t automatically medicate her.
Instead, he decided to follow a hunch. He turned on the radio and asked Lynne’s mother to leave the room with him.
The minute the adults left, Lynne’s body began to move. As the music filled the air, she couldn’t contain herself and danced all around the room, even leaping up on the doctor’s desk. “What I hadn’t noticed,” Lynne writes in her autobiography, “was that his door was one of those beautiful old glass ones with etched designs through which the doctor and my mother were watching.”
As he watched Lynne dance, the doctor smiled and turned to her mother.
“There’s no trouble with this child,” he said. “She is a natural dancer—you must take her to dance class.”
(Can we pause the story here for just a second? How amazing is this doctor?)
That prescription—Take her to dance class—changed Lynne’s life. When she arrived at dance school, Lynne found a whole room of people just like her—“people who had to move to think,” as she put it.
What followed was a lifetime of dance. Lynne danced in the Royal Ballet and choreographed Cats and Phantom of the Opera—two of the longest-running shows in Broadway history.
Looking back at that moment in the doctor’s office, Lynne says, “I really owe my whole career . . . and I suppose my life to this man.”
Most education systems treat students the way that airlines treat economy-class passengers. The same bag of pretzels is served to the same cramped seat. Regardless of their unique perceptions and curiosities, every student is served the same curriculum, the same lessons, and the same formulas.
Efficient? Yes. Effective? No.
When he was a student, the astronomer Carl Sagan hated calculus. He believed calculus was invented by ill-meaning educators for “intimidation purposes.” His attitude changed only after he picked up the book, Interplanetary Flight, by Arthur C. Clarke. In the book, Clarke used calculus to calculate interplanetary trajectories.
Instead of being told “calculus is good for you,” Sagan could now see for himself why calculus was helpful. He could use it to solve problems that he thought were worth solving. He was enrolled in a journey that would eventually make him one of the most popular astronomers of all time.
“Attend this” or “do that” aren’t good enough—in the same way that “learn calculus” wasn’t good enough for Sagan. But if you can get people enrolled in a journey—committed to a destination they care about—they’ll tap into their own unique gifts.
Show your child how learning about geometry and fractions will help them fix their bike. Explain to your employees how the new marketing strategy they need to execute will help further the company’s moonshot. Rally your customers by embedding a worthy cause into the heart of what you do.
If you do this, the student will become a learner. The employee will become a team member. And the customer will become a passionate advocate.
Because the trouble isn’t with them.
They just need to go to dance class.
And once they are moved, they will move the world.