Why Creativity is Critical for the Workforce of the Future

In our world of rapidly evolving technology that is encroaching on everyone’s lives, there is no bigger transformative trend on the horizon than the expected impact of automation, artificial intelligence, robotics and algorithms on the job market of tomorrow. Clearly there is growing anxiety that technology developments will crush the jobs of millions. How can society prepare for such job replacements by automated technology? Many experts believe the answer lies with developing new creative skills that will enable people to adapt and even build on this new technological landscape. And these creative talents will be crucial for making brands more relevant and engaging too.

Central to this solution is recognition that changes in our educational systems must start at a very early age – i.e. nurturing greater creativity and independent thinking at childhood. A recent NY Times article entitled “Running, Jumping and Swinging Their Way to a Lifetime of Innovations” reported on an increasing number of elementary schools in the U.S. expanding their recess time from 20 minutes to over 50 minutes. The longer recesses helped release a lot of pent-up energy and resulted in a demonstrable shift in students’ moods, for example, overcoming their restlessness and difficulty focusing on homework, reducing cranky behavior with fewer disciplinary actions, achieving higher test scores and even experiencing improvement in their health.

How young people use this extra time is important. Neuroscientists say that children should be given more freedom where they are solving problems with no predictable answers and making more choices in their daily lives. When problem solving is open-minded, students’ curiosity for learning more things increases, and this will be essential for when artificial intelligence becomes more commonplace in the future. Storytelling, group play and building with blocks also stimulate wonder and curiosity. Creativity leads to better social skills too, which is important for building relationships (also the heart of branding).

This growing body of thought about stimulating creativity during childhood is having an impact on the educational policies around the world. Pew Research Center conducted a survey in 2016 of 19 countries on whether it is more important to emphasize creative thinking or basic academic skills and discipline. The trend favors creative and independent thinking. Some highlights:

Advanced Countries in Europe – Leading in their preference for creativity were Spain, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden, which felt it was more important “to be creative and think independently,” ranging from 67% to 54% versus “encouraging basic skills and discipline,” 24% to 42%

The U.S. – The U.S. is in the middle with a smaller difference than these European countries: 48% preferring creative thinking compared to 42% favoring the basics and discipline.

Influence of Ideology – In most countries, educational preferences reflect ideology, where those on the left prefer that schools focus on teaching creative and independent thinking, while those on the right tend to value academic skills and discipline. Reflecting the wide polarization today, the gap was widest in the U.S. – liberals (67%) were twice as likely as conservatives (33%) to favor education that emphasizes independent thinking.

Preferences of Younger – Perhaps less surprising was the finding that younger generations are more likely than older ones to prefer creative education. The difference was largest in France where 53% of those ages 18 to 34 say creative education is more important, compared to those 50 and over who feel this way – 29%. In the U.S. the gap was smaller yet still significant: 58% of Millennials favor creative thinking versus only 41% for the 50+.

Concurrent with these Pew Research findings, the World Economic Forum in 2016 concluded that such changes in educational and learning environments are necessary to help people stay employable. Related to the findings of this Forum, Pew Research Center and Elon’s Imagining Internet Center canvassed over 1,400 technologists, scholars, and education leaders in 2016 asking them to share their expectations about what is likely to evolve by 2026. Here are a few typical excerpts that shed light on this question:

Susan Price, a digital architect at Continuum Analytics, commented, “Increasingly, machines will perform tasks they are better suited to perform than humans, such as computation, data analysis and logic. Functions requiring emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, and creative judgment and discernment will expand and be increasingly valued in our culture.”

Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards, wrote, “The skills needed to succeed in the future are curiosity, creativity, taking initiative, multi-disciplinary thinking and empathy. These skills, interestingly, are the skills specific to human beings that machines and robots cannot do, and you can be taught to strengthen these skills through education.”

These high emotion qualities (e.g. creativity, compassion, and empathy) will be crucial for business success in the future too. We are already witnessing how brand messaging can no longer rely on distinctive product attributes, but must emotionally engage new customers to create a sustainable bond with them. In particular, Millennials and Generation Z consumers want an emotional experience from their preferred brand, not just the satisfaction from product benefits.

Jay Gronlund

Jay Gronlund is an experienced business development and branding professional with a successful track record introducing new products and services, expanding into foreign markets, re-positioning products, and facilitating ideation sessions. Jay has effectively applied proven marketing and branding principles from his background in the consumer goods industry to other industry sectors, including B2B situations. Jay’s career began in consumer packaged goods and then expanded into household products, beverages and publishing. His first company was Richardson-Vicks (now part of Proctor & Gamble), where he held new product positions in New York and in London. He continued his new product responsibilities for Arm & Hammer products at Church & Dwight (Arm & Hammer), then VP Marketing of the wine/champagne division of Seagram, and finally VP, Director of Marketing at Newsweek. Gronlund started The Pathfinder Group in New York in 1990, an international business development and brand consulting firm. Related to this, much of his work today involves re-positioning brands, ideation sessions and marketing workshops, with a primary focus on emotional branding, especially building brand trust for clients. Jay has also been teaching a marketing course at NYU since 1999, “Positioning and Brand Development". Jay recently wrote a new book, “Basics of Branding," reflecting his NYU branding course and professional experience. He has also published several articles on diverse marketing topics: “5 Steps to a Successful Ideation Session," “What B2B Marketers can Learn from B2C," “Employer Branding," “Customized Marketing for Tomorrow’s Leaders," “Sharing and Implementing New Ideas Across Borders," and “Working with the New Russians”, “Word-of-Mouth Marketing for B2B Situations," “The Future of m-Health” and “How to Build ‘Value’ for Healthcare Brands in Emerging Markets." Jay Gronlund is a graduate of Colby College and has an MBA from Tuck at Dartmouth College.

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