What is the future of creativity?

What is the future of creativity?

At various points in history people seem to have decided that there’s nothing left to be invented. That we have exhausted the possibilities for music, art, and science. Inevitably they are proved wrong. Today we’re more aware of what we don’t know than ever before. It’s clear that we are only beginning our journey of discovery as a species.

Creativity is often misunderstood. It is overly associated with the arts, and art in particular. Those who didn’t take to art or creative writing at school may not consider themselves creative. But creativity is problem solving. It is often not about originality but transposition and iteration, bringing ideas from one place and applying them in a different context then refining them over a period until they fulfil a need. The arts are a great place to learn these skills, but they are not their only outlet.

Creativity and future of work

Creativity is one of those words that gets bandied about meaninglessly like ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’. But what about creativity and the future of work? If you can’t choose a career, maybe you need to invent your future job?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s such a singular question in an age when our careers so rarely include just one line of work, sometimes including many in parallel. And when it’s not entirely clear at what point in our lives we count as having ‘grown up’.

Now seems a good time to share the tools I use for mentorship sessions.

Future Job: Opportunity Matrix

The first of these is about capturing the different avenues available to someone. This may sound like an unusual position, but we are in a world of growing self-employment and rising diversity in types and styles of work. Dell and the Institute for the Future suggested back in 2017 that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030, don’t yet exist today. This says nothing of the jobs that exist today that might not exist, or might employ many fewer people in 2030, but that’s a different story.

We are making up jobs all the time, so why shouldn’t people make up their own future job? Perhaps people come to me because I did just that. I have now been an Applied Futurist for longer than I have been anything else.

The first tool I put together for my mentees is designed to simply map the different avenues available to them and get them to put some values against each.

  • The first value is enthusiasm, or passion. Does this type of work, or working in this particular line, bring you joy? Very Marie Kondo.
  • The second value is opportunity. Can you realise a good income from pursuing this line of work? Can you win work against the competition?
  • The third value is credibility. Do you have a track record in this line or some other validation of it being your specialism?

I ask my mentees to give a score out of ten for each of these criteria to the various avenues in front of them. No single avenue of opportunity has to score highly in all three criteria: if there’s a big opportunity, it’s worth working towards credibility. But you really want it to be something you enjoy.

The results don’t give you a hard and fast answer about which direction to pursue. But I’m hoping they provide a platform for our next conversation. If you’re facing similar choices, feel free to download this template and use it to find your ideal future job.

Is technology making us less creative?

So, what is the future of creativity in the workplace? The drive for operational excellence has brought an end to the age of creativity in too many businesses. Lots of companies are focused on doing what they do better. This is a noble goal, you might think. And that’s true, as long as this pursuit doesn’t exclude an even more critical challenge: asking the question, “should we even be doing it?”

There is a new class of small but impactful and highly accelerated waves of change that will ultimately present an existential threat to every organisation. In this age, it is critical that every leader who wants to build sustainable success – who prizes stewardship over short-term wins – focuses on adaptation not optimisation. That they recognise that while wastefulness is never good, long-term success will require rapid change to fit the market, rather than endless refinements to today’s model.

In an age of high frequency change we need open minded, wide ranging, creativity applied across our organisations. A constant challenge to our processes, propositions and behaviours, and new ideas instituted, revised, and applied.

This type of creativity is a skill, one that can be learned and that must be honed. This process is an unalloyed good for individuals and has enormous benefits for our organisations. It is something that deserves our investment. We need to return to an age of creativity.

Rewarding future creativity

Creativity is often seen as being its own reward, but even artists need to eat. Too often creative talent is devalued. Jobs offered for ‘exposure’. Music and arts squeezed out of the curriculum. Yes, you can be extremely creative in science, maths and English. But that creativity is always enhanced by cross-pollination with other, explicitly creative disciplines where the creative muscles can be developed.

Google may have part of the answer. Its Content ID system may be unloved by the music industry, who claim it isn’t effective enough at identifying unlicensed use of their properties. But if Google is to be believed it identifies 99.7% of copies of tunes in its database. Content ID automatically notifies copyright owners, allowing them to monetise user-generated content that infringes their rights.

Imagine a system like this that allows individuals to protect their rights to creative works of all types around the world. The complexities of global copyright may make it hard to enforce legally. But much more shaming of the type that Inditex is experiencing now may convince large retail brands to sign up. And it would provide a simple source of discovery and a single source of evidence for those who have been infringed. Even if the person doing the infringing is another small business or sole practitioner — as has happened to a well-known illustrator friend — this would be a way to monitor that and at least socially enforce some sort of control.

Would this be a good thing? It would undoubtedly be abused. By large corporates (as happened in this case) and spiteful individuals.

Either way, I think we’ll see something like this before too long.

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This article is by Tom Cheesewright. This post forms part of the Future of Business series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Business page.

Tom Cheesewright


Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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