In an Automated World, Your Creativity Will Become the Most Valuable Skill

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For as long as we can remember, society has touted the engineer, and patronized the dancer, but a seismic shift is happening in the professional world – we’re moving away from routine technical jobs towards a new hyper-creative workforce. Not only are more people opting out of traditionally technical positions, but companies are becoming increasingly less interested in hiring them. Data Entry professionals, Electronic Equipment Assemblers, Typists, File Clerks, and Computer Operators are among those on the endangered list. Yet our educational system persists in cranking out degrees into specialized and increasingly obsolete fields.

And with more people graduating from college around the world than ever, the value of a degree has decreased exponentially. In his recent Ted Talk (which has garnered an impressive 34 million views and counting), inspirational speaker, educator, and author Ken Robinson says, “when I was in school, if you had a degree, you had a job. Unless you didn’t want a job. Now you have kids coming back from school with degrees and just playing video games.” This “academic inflation,” as Ken calls it, leaves many wondering if pursuing higher education is the answer to all their career worries. They push to get a doctorate in a specialized field in hopes of standing out in a competitive climate.

Fifteen years ago if you had a degree, you had a job. Now people are coming back from university unable to find any work. The fatal flaw lies in the fact that universities are first and foremost designed to turn students into professors. Those specialized skills don’t translate very well outside of academia. 

The purpose of modern University Education, says Ken, is to turn students into professors. But he doesn’t think that this should be the aim of all knowledge. Because in the process of turning everyone into academics – people who go through years and years of schooling in order to learn more and more about less – we leave out a whole branch of creative talents that do not necessarily flourish in the world of school. And this is because of the stance our educational system takes towards knowledge -that the maths and sciences are more important than the arts and humanities. But that isn’t enough anymore. The world is changing. This leaves us with a big, unanswered question: what will come to set us apart in the unpredictable world of the future?

Daniel Pink offers an answer in his bestseller, “A Whole New Mindin which he argues that the skills associated with creativity will be the most valuable in the future economy. According to him, creativity will become essential in order to even compete in the workforce. As an example of this shift, Pink points out the growing trend towards outsourcing routine tasks to cheaper markets in foreign countries, or else replacing human labor altogether with software. Jobs that used to require persons with advanced knowledge and technical training can now be done cheaply and instantly by new technologies. According to Pink, the work that a computer coder would be expected to do for $70,000 a year at a company in the US is paid $15,000 in India. For the Indian worker, this is a large sum of money which they are perfectly happy to make, so it makes no business sense for companies to pay more money to have the same job done.

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In the near future, skills associated with creativity will not only be helpful in landing your dream job, they will be essential. 

A study by the Institute for the Future supports much of what Pink is saying about the new mind and future marketplace. According to them, there is no longer a need for specialists, but for “generalists.” The idea that a generalist is greater than a specialist goes back centuries to the very foundation of the university. All those years ago, a truly educated person was one who could argue about a variety of subjects. Some would call this type of person a liberal arts major. And believe it or not, there is a huge shift towards hiring liberal arts majors in fields that are more commonly thought of as dominated by technically trained people. Even the booming world of technology has felt the need for creative minded people. For example, just a few months ago I had a meeting with a Microsoft exec who told me that he would rather hire English majors than Engineers. “English majors and liberal arts majors are more widely read and look at the problem from different angles,” he said. “They’ve learned to think for themselves.” Microsoft, IBM and similar companies are more and more hiring these liberal arts “generalists.”

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Yet it is not only the generalist that Daniel Pink says the future belongs to. He also mentions the need for skilled artists.  He says that the most marketable things are those things which people never knew they needed. “And who is it that shows people they need something they didn’t even know they were missing? The artist.”

People are drawn to the work of the artist not because it is useful in the way that the work of an engineer is useful, but because it is enjoyable in and of itself. We don’t always need the things creativity thinks up, but in a mysterious way, the things an artist creates – a book, a painting, or a new fashion design – those things benefit us in ways we never could have known or imagines before we actually saw the thing. By being more than useful, they better our lives. And people are drawn to things with this kind of value.

In a video aired by the BBC, philosopher and writer Roger Scruton says that only the truly useless things are valuable to people. If a thing is made because it serves some function alone, and no care is given to show beauty through it, people will never find any use for it.  Scruton shows how his hometown of Redding was desecrated by the utilitarian architecture or our contemporary culture. He shows that the part of his city which has been essentially converted into a parking garage and transit station is now abandoned. He juxtaposes this with a charming building left in its original form. It once was a forge, but is now a coffee house. And though all around this charming place is nothing but a wasteland of utilitarian structures, this one café is a bustling place of life, and people want to frequent it for this reason. The life of the café emanates from the beauty and design of the building itself.

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There are so many things that our college education system refuses to teach because the system considers them useless. Art is useless, dance is useless, calligraphy is useless, photography is useless, If it doesn’t make finding a job easy, or at least easier, then forget it. It’s useless.

Imagine an education that teaches people about the beautiful things that are good for their own sake, without the need for any practical application. Imagine if our education system valued creativity not because it improved yo, and not so that you can crank out academic papers, but because by doing so it will make for a better mind, body and soul, and an overall happier life. We can actualize the minds of the upcoming students to be educated, to become great generalists, fluent in the new technologies, without forgetting the forms of intelligence that are inherent to us: those which technology only enhances, and not the ones it replaces.

The future belongs to creatives. The steel mills are closed, and soon the accounting firm employees will be replaced with software. Coders may be outsourced to places in the world where their work can be done for cheaper. So then this leaves the artist alone, standing no longer at the mercy of society but on a pedestal above it. Those who have majored in creativity, sweated for creativity, suffered, profited, and found joy in those abilities now have a place at IBM, Apple, and Microsoft. In fact, the skills that artists have been working at all their lives are now wanted everywhere in our country. They are no longer impractical, their “uselessness” has become most useful. They are the gorgeous houses with the Oceanside view, and they’ve made themselves this way by not selling out for those things which supposedly bring about fast and great material rewards. But what does this mean for the rest of us, or those of us just starting out who are not conditioned artists, but who are, in the words of famous author Jack London “only beginning our apprenticeships?” The study done by the Institute for the Future offers categories of skills that will be the most important in the future marketplace. But how are they learned? Do we have to go to school and specialize in Marketing to learn these things?

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Creativity is as important as literacy…Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves. ~ Ken Robinson

In fact, most of the categories that the research showed to be most important are things that can be learned best through life. Media knowledge, virtual collaboration, global awareness, empathy, adaptive and analytical thinking, as well as social intelligence: these are skills best learned through work and life, not from memorizing and tests. In fact, the old way of learning, classrooms and lectures, is becoming so outdated that it could even be said that the true liberal arts education has evolved past it. By setting goals and taking daily steps towards them, by not letting our education be the end of our learning, and by becoming perpetual students in our minds and not in our classroom attendance, we can learn these skills, and find a place among the leaders of tomorrow’s world.

Daniel Pink’s book may not be much of a new idea as it is a rehabilitation of an old way of thought, which our society has deemed outdated. This whole new mind is not so much a new mind as a forgotten one. Surely it will seem new to millions upon millions of workers who are moving away from the old skill based workforce into the new one needing these abilities.

Each one of us has our own natural bent. That the future belongs to artists does not mean that the artist is now our superhuman. We must simply rethink our view of education, of usefulness and uselessness. It means that the future does not belong to followers, but leaders. It does not belong to the content, but to the risk takers.

If all you had was academic ability, you wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed this morning. In fact, there wouldn’t have been a bad to get out of. No one could have made one. You could have written about possibility of one, but not have constructed it. ~ Ken Robinson

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