Why creativity is at the heart of successful careers

Creativity is how we reinvent ourselves and protect our livelihoods from becoming automated.

Back in the age of enlightenment learning was about human dignity. Only a few benefited from education back then and it was something you honed over a lifetime. The learned were pillars of society. They helped advance our understanding of all fields. Their careers were diverse and often involved innovation across multiple fields.

At the same time the idea of a company was born. People no longer needed to be their own bosses and own their own work, they could go work for someone else. We saw various models of partnerships, guilds and cooperatives. Careers were often about learning a craft or it was about administration for the crown. Then came industrialisation. And education scaled to reach more and more children. Not long after, learning and education became a task of preparing workers. And work about mastering a process to be repeated endlessly.

With industrialisation came the effort to maximise productivity. We became obsessed with finding the most efficient ways to do anything. And it did create much progress and wealth. But it also sent us down the slippery slope of equating human value with utility. And you know we can always invent machines that have higher utility than a human being.

Careers are built on more than the three R’s

Much of the debate in education now is around reading, writing and arithmetic (the 3 R’s). We can’t do without them, but we also need to look beyond them. Technology, automation, AI, algorithms are the dawn of a new world. In this world, reading, writing and arithmetic are also the easiest to automate. Any work that has this at the core is under threat.

If we can stop equating human value with utility, we also see that we need more than the three Rs. Our most precious qualities are our humanity, our capacity for creativity, empathy and for ethical judgement. These are things machine learning is struggling with and will likely never master to the level we can do it. Here we have an edge and creativity is key. Not only as a quality in itself, but in its ability to help us hone the other qualities also. A kind of superpower.

It expresses itself in the ability to generate innovative and workable ideas. In the ability to be flexible and connect unrelated things in new ways. In problem-solving. And it is one of the most sought-after skills in hiring in the 21st century. More than anything, creativity determines personal, academic and professional success. It is the ability to turn what captures our curiosity into new, surprising ideas and things that we can use to advance our work, and our careers.

Curiosity and imagination spark creativity

Creativity is not only a personality trait that some have more of than others. It is actually a skill we can learn, starting at the earliest age right through the education system. Creative problem-solving and divergent thinking are skills that everyone can develop.

And it starts with curiosity. Curiosity is at the heart of understanding the world, ourselves and one another. All three are vital parts of growing up and curiosity is what motivates us to explore them.

Curiosity opens up the space of imagination, of ‘what if?’ and ‘how might we?’ questions. Imagination fosters a space of possibility and potential. It provides a space to play with ideas and things.

Playing and experimenting develop creativity

Curiosity ignites our desire to explore. Imagination allows us to see the possibilities ahead of us. And play is what builds our creativity in finding our way there. Play is how we try ideas on for size, how we test and experiment with what might be. How we make connections between ideas, people and things. Play is how we learn.

Play has an exponential impact in our early years. This is when our brains are like superconductors. Play helps us forge exponentially greater numbers of connections. And shape our brains faster than any other activity we could be doing. And play continues to have this effect on us, no matter what age.

Creativity drives adaptability and change

The beauty of creativity is that it is a driving force both for positive change and for adapting to change. When a creative act happens, the world is not the same as it was before. Creativity creates change. These three elements:

  1. Curiosity and imagination ignite creativity;
  2. Play and experimentation develop creativity;
  3. Creativity drives change and adaptability

Combining these three elements creates a powerful dynamic. Something that machine learning or automation cannot mimic.

This ability, let’s call it creative agency. To act in and on the world is vital for anyone, let alone every young person’s education today. It is one constant in a world of exponential change. It helps us reinvent ourselves, what we know, what we do, who we are, over and over again. If we have creative agency, why should we worry that the jobs we will be doing in 20 years don’t exist yet? We will be the ones inventing them.

Don’t just start early; make creativity the heart of lifelong learning

Children are natural learners. They learn through play. This natural capacity is something we must nurture and turn into strength throughout our lives. An engine for creativity we can ignite through curiosity and imagination, and fuel through play and experimentation. And unleash through empowering creative agency with tools, activities and experiences.

Real change requires every one of us to act. We need to do it now. Let’s not pit ourselves against machines in a losing battle where the prize is our humanity. Let’s nurture creativity in ourselves, one another and give children of all ages the creative skills and intellectual freedom that make us proud to be human.

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