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Are we killing creativity? The risk of a “task-oriented” society

It is now over 10 years since Sir Ken Robinson´s talk in 2006 where he addressed the lack of creativity issue in our society, and pointed at the educational system as one of the causes “all children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow” (Robinson, 2006). This video had more than 32 million visits, but, what has changed since 2006?

Over the last decade, an intense debate has taken place regarding how to promote creativity at an early age (primary school), and some recent publications compares several international educational models at school-age (Hernando, 2015). This research provides interesting insights, however it does not seem to address the key issue: the idea that focusing on the improvement of primary education will solve the lack of creativity in society seems almost reckless. We should start from the premise that creativity is a form of disruption and that disruptive changes require from disruptive actions; therefore, the very fact of planning how to “manufacture future creative people” may end up becoming part of the trap. It is important to understand that people have become used to reproduce and copy contents, which can be done very quick due to the easy access to universal information, the referencing practices, and an overall risk aversion to think out-of-the-box. This is making society evolve towards a “task-oriented society”, where professionals are able to manage assets but not create to create new assets (“tell me what do I have to do to sort this issue, and I will do it”, a sentence I have heard very often at work). This trend is particularly visible in younger generations, which is becoming a big global issue for corporations according to the CEO Global Study (IBM, 2010). This report pointed at creativity as the core competence for leadership in the companies of the future, and is consistent with many other findings available on the Internet.

We should take big steps within our closest environment to promote creativity, and here are some recipes open to debate:

  • Reach the break point. The creative process mush start yourself by taking a disruptive approach towards problem-solving. When facing the next problem, practice asking yourself “How might I find a unique solution to this challenge?” Assume certain levels of risks when ideating solutions, and reward such approach within your ecosystem.
  • Creativity is not the same as ideas. Creativity consists of using new “ideas” to find novel solutions to problems. Thus, the key to foster creativity is not just generating ideas, but also finding feasible solutions. Practice the whole cycle!
  • Less referencing. The global modern culture is oriented to an overuse of references: everything must be referenced, almost to the point of referencing opinion (no doubt there is a dark side in most things, and this might be the dark side of intellectual property). Such practice is even more accused due to the easy access to information. As a consequence, the firs step when facing a new challenge is usually searching for references or case studies on the Internet. Let´s reverse the order: try to start by using a blank piece of paper to ideate a solution when facing your next challenge, and then search for existing models and references to support your concept, thus avoiding any initial contamination.
  • Rethink “efficiency”. This term has become a global mantra, but unfortunately under its most simplistic interpretation: do more in less time. Efficiency should be understood as the ability to make unique, meaningful and feasible contributions as a result of individual or collective creation. Practicing and sharing this definition will bring more powerful and sophisticated results.
  • Rethink measurement indicators. The Global Creativity Index (Florida, Mellander, & King, 2015) intended to define an international system to measure and compare creativity among countries; however, in my opinion it is a failed attempt to measure such intangible. The system provides a creativity index combining indicators such as R&D investment, number of patents, number of highly skilled jobs, number of university students, tolerance for ethnic and racial minorities, and other. However, nothing seems further from creativity! If we are not sure how to measure creativity, let not waste time trying to do it; instead let´s focus on rewarding new ideas and out-of-the-box approaches.
  • Technology at the service of creativity, not the other way around. Apps have evolved towards task management and performance measurement, thus fostering analytical practice and hindering creative reflection. A new generation of tools should be developed to assist users in their creative process using big data solutions; it may seem fiction today, but I would be delighted to see technological development turning into that direction.
  • Facing the Human Resources challenge. HR management got stuck in the past and has evolved in most cases into a low-profile administrative function: CV gathering and selection, profile design, interviewing, staff performance monitoring and other tasks, leading the final hiring decision to the internal or external client. HR needs to totally reinvent itself and be able to detect creative talent in order to face the leadership requirements of the future. The transformation towards a more creative society will not take place if we do not start working on ourselves. I believe this is the real big challenge and our best legacy will be allowing disruptive change to take place within our closest environment. 

 

REFERENCES

Florida, R., Mellander, C., & King, K. (2015). The Global Creativity Index 2015. Retrieved from http://martinprosperity.org/media/Global-Creativity-Index-2015.pdf

Hernando, A. (2015). Viaje a la escuela del siglo XXI. Retrieved from http://www.fundaciontelefonica.com/educacion_innovacion/viaje-escuela-siglo-21/

IBM. (2010). IBM 2010 Global CEO Study: Creativity Selected as Most Crucial Factor for Future Success. Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/31670.wss

Robinson, K. (2006). Do schools kill creativity? Retrieved May 20, 2012, from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity