You’re not alone if you don’t consider yourself a creative person.
Less than half of people over the age of 24 describe themselves as creative, according to a series of studies commissioned by Adobe.
That’s a problem with broad implications for businesses, communities, and individuals. We need a mindset shift to the realization that we are ALL inherently creative. We need our leaders to understand this and to begin to cultivate creativity.
This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts about the importance of creativity and ways we can all cultivate it.
To start, let’s go way, way back, to roughly 70,000 years ago. Humans were evolving and the brains of one particular group (sapiens) drastically changed, including the enlargement of the regions of the brain that contribute to planning, long-term memory, language, tool use, and self-awareness. This newly complex intelligence enabled us to respond to environmental challenges in increasingly smarter, faster ways. (Source: Tomorrowmind).
Still hunter-gatherers at this point, there were three key characteristics of these bigger brains: Generalism (they had to know a little bit about everything), Adaptability (they had to be able to adapt to new environments), and Creativity (these brains were wired for learning and coming up with new ideas). Being nomadic, each new location required adaptation while offering opportunities to learn new skills. It’s believed that these foragers spent only 3-5 hours a day working (foraging), with plenty of time for learning, leisure, socializing, and exploration. This leisurely exploration led to creativity and innovation – for example, learning how to build and use tools, making and wearing clothes, transitioning from gathering to farming. (Source: Tomorrowmind).
Since this time, our brains actually haven’t evolved much (if at all). We still have these hunter-gatherer brains, wired for generalism, adaptability, and creativity and best suited for work as foragers.
While our brains are essentially the same as they were 70,000 years ago, the world we live and work in is entirely different. Each labor transformation we have gone through as a species – first to agriculture, then industrialization, and now to our technology-driven world of work – has come at a cost. (Source: Tomorrowmind). Our brains are still designed to be generalists, adaptive, and creative, yet so many jobs nowadays are so specialized. Unsurprisingly, 61% of full-time employees say the stress of the modern workplace has made them sick. (Source: Tomorrowmind).
We are at a unique time in human history where our world is changing at a faster rate than ever before. The rapid pace of technological advancement coupled with the environmental impacts of climate change and global economic instability (not to mention the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic) have shown that having to navigate volatility and uncertainty, both on individual and organizational levels, is our new normal. “The sheer pace of change means we are already changing or losing jobs twice as fast as we did at the height of industrialization. By one estimate, 800 million global workers will see their current jobs replaced by automation by 2030, and as many as 80% of us will see our wages reduced due to automation in this same period.” (Source: Tomorrowmind).
As Charles Conn, Board Chair of Patagonia, says, “When you look at all of human history, things change very little. And then if you look at the last 75 or 100 years, everything has changed. And then if you just look at the last two decades and you look at the impact of artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, etc., things are changing much faster still, even in the last decade.” (Source: Duct Tape Marketing Podcast).
Yet, I don’t think all is lost. While it’s true that many jobs that exist right now will either go away or become automated in the near future, there are many more jobs that don’t exist at all today that will one day be essential. Our current jobs and workplaces are evolving, just as they always have, albeit at a quicker pace.
In the Harvard Business Review article “Cultivating The Four Kinds of Creativity”, the author states that “one island of stability in the sea of conversation about the future of work is the conviction that our jobs will become increasingly creative. The World Economic Forum, McKinsey, and nearly every major think tank seem aligned around this hypothesis, offering heaps of data to support it. The trend is not just about the delegation of rote tasks to automation; it’s also about the accelerating pace of change and the increasing complexity of business, which demand original responses to novel challenges far more frequently than ever before.”
The article goes on to say that “Many companies now include creativity as a core competency for employees at all levels—especially those on the front lines—and across all functions, from sales and marketing to accounting and operations to customer service. Individuals and talent managers must therefore get smart about what it takes to foster and manage this skill.
We are seeing an arc (hopefully) back to more generalism, adaptability, and creativity in our jobs, along with (hopefully) going back to a shorter workday, a more communal (whether physically or remotely connected) workplace, and the creative exploration of new terrain (solving today’s ever-changing challenges).
So, let’s focus on the positive here! Yes the world is changing rapidly, yes we are facing unprecedented challenges we’ve never faced before. But remember, the “creative exploration of new terrain” is what our hunter-gatherer brains were made for! We are being called to tap back into what our minds evolved to be: adaptable, generalist, and creative.
Biologically and physiologically: everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is creative.
The words “create” and “creative” are defined as “relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas” and “a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is formed.” Why do we so often think of creativity as only being specifically art related? Of needing to be skilled in painting, drawing, songwriting, etc. to be thought of as creative?
In Tomorrowmind, the authors give an example of an IT executive and cyber security consultant who doesn’t think of himself as a creative per se, but rather as a “builder who loves to learn”. Yet this, the authors say, is still creativity!
I think curiosity and creativity are really two sides of the same coin. You can’t be creative without first being curious. And you can’t really be curious without being creative. Curious people ask inventive questions which requires profound imagination and a capacity to conceive many possibilities.
So, to summarize thus far:
- We still have hunter-gatherer brains which are hardwired to be generalists, adaptive, and creative.
- The world is changing very quickly, but our brains are not. This volatile and uncertain world requires us to cultivate our generalist, adaptive, creative capabilities.
- Curiosity and creativity are two sides of the same coin.
- Creativity is not just for artists! If you can learn new things, use your imagination, and do both to help build something new and valuable, you are creative!
Stay tuned for the next post about HOW we can start cultivating our inherent creativity and help others do the same.
USA Today article: Generation Creative? Gen Z might be the most creative generation yet, poll says. 8/18/2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/08/18/generation-z-may-most-creative-yet-study-says/5589601002/
Idea to Value: Less Than Half of People Would Describe Themselves as Creative, 1/11/2022. https://www.ideatovalue.com/lead/nickskillicorn/2022/01/less-than-half-of-people-would-describe-themselves-as-creative/#:~:text=Less%20than%20half%20of%20people,as%20creative%20%2D%20Idea%20to%20Value
Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work with Resilience, Creativity, and Connection, Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin Seligman, 2023.
Navigating Uncertainty: The Art of Imperfection in Strategy, Duct Tape Marketing Podcast interview with Charles Conn, 4/20/2023, https://ducttapemarketing.com/navigating-uncertainty-the-art-of-imperfection-in-strategy/
Harvard Business Review, Cultivating the Four Kinds of Creativity, January 2023, https://hbr.org/2023/01/cultivating-the-four-kinds-of-creativity