We are a little confused these days. And that isn’t surprising. A few decades ago, you could bank on it that your diploma would land you a beautiful career. What you had learned from books and lecture halls at university or college was the same knowledge that allowed you to carry your weight professionally. For years on end, even.
Those days are gone forever. Everything has changed. Even so much so that change itself has become the only constant factor. Technology has taken over from us for the most part. We are no longer the smartest knife in the drawer, and, to excel in our profession, we need more than just a diploma on our wall.
There is no escaping it; we have to permanently educate ourselves. We need to gain new knowledge and insights, master new skills, and follow the changes and innovation in our profession closely. In English, this is coined ‘life-long-learning’. And, oh yeah, that’s right, without English — and preferably a few other languages — you will definitely never go anywhere anymore because you can’t build a career under the bell tower any longer. We’re all connected to the world.
We are no longer the smartest knife in the drawer, and, to excel in our profession, we need more than just a diploma on our wall.
But life-long-learning is a lot more than just immersing yourself in professional knowledge and learning a few foreign languages. After all, this kind of knowledge and intelligence also falls victim to digitalization. Hello, AI, and Machine Learning! Luckily, there are skills that do still give us the upper hand over our digital brethren, and it’s these skills that we should master most of all.
Research, amongst others, carried out by the World Economic Forum and by Linkedin Learning, resulted in a list of the 10 most valuable skills for the future. Five of those are ‘hard skills’, primarily technology related, while the other five are referred to as ‘soft skills’. In that last category, creativity comes in first by a landslide.
Creativity: from a gimmick to a must-have
“What do you mean, you teach creativity to professionals and college students? Can you learn it? And, what is the practical use of it, anyway?” Not too long ago, from the laughing tone of voice in which these questions were put to me, I could infer quickly how the one asking the question perceived creativity. Nowadays, I hardly ever hear this joking pitch anymore as it has given way to curiosity and interest. And, rightly so, because learning creative behavior benefits your career. And, macro-economic trends suggest that creativity will only become more important in the future.
Fortunately, nowadays, we associate creativity less and less with art. Yes, by definition, an artist is creative, but that goes as well for a software engineer, a social worker, a sales persons, and a CEO. What, then, does creativity mean in reality? Theresa Amabile — a well-known American psychologist, who has done a lot of research on creativity — defined it as ‘generating ideas that are useful and new’. Useful often means solving a common problem. A solution without relevance or use is not a solution at all and, therefore, by definition, not creative either. Novelty is a little harder to ascertain, but it boils down to the level of originality. A way of handling that differs from what was expected or done earlier. To sum it all up: creativity is simply solving a problem in an original way.
Creativity is simply solving a problem in an original way.
And you can learn that. By opening up to the fact that the most common solution is not always the best and train yourself in techniques to think in alternatives. By postponing your judgement, actively listening to ideas of others, and take it from there. By looking at challenges and problems from different angles. By connecting seemingly unconnected dots. By not limiting your own imagination, and by stepping out of your comfort zone.
Right, at the core of creative thinking lie behaviors and skills. And, the better you master those, the more they will become a reflex. A ‘mindset’, as I like to call it. And, that mindset is crucial to tackling the rising tide of challenges and changes that we are facing professionally on a daily basis.
Creative employees are ‘problem solvers’, positive thinkers who are not satisfied with the status quo. They are awakeners, triggers, door-openers, and lighthouses. Small wonder that companies and organizations are feverishly looking for professionals who have mastered this mindset. Small wonder that creativity is number one on the desired list of ‘skills of the future’.
The future is to the T-shaped professional. The one, who will permanently educate themselves on the vertical axis that will deepen their professional and industry knowledge. Without that knowledge, you will soon be out of touch with the reality of things, and life-long-learning will become indispensable. But the real difference you will only make if you also invest in the horizontal axis: the lasting skills that will make you grow and give your career wings, and of which creativity is number one.