Why Creativity Matters

Lately there’s been a lot of discussion around the importance of creativity to business success.

“For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining,” reports Newsweek in “The Creativity Crisis,” published in July. The article further cites a recent IBM poll of 1500 CEOs who identified creativity as the No.1 “leadership competency” of the future.

Why this sudden interest?

After all, for the longest time “creative types” were viewed as marginal figures in our economic life. Sure, they might be interesting, eccentric, even visionary, but they certainly weren’t fueling America’s economic engine.

But in recent years, things have changed.

Creativity is increasingly seen as crucial to our national prosperity. Once marginal, creativity needs to go mainstream.

There are three main reasons for this, writes Daniel Pink in his eye-opening book, A Whole New Mind.

The first is outsourcing.

More and more, non-creative work is being shipped out of the country to places like Asia and Latin America. And it’s happening not just in manufacturing, but also in services. We’ve all had experience with Indian call centers. But even the work of lawyers, accountants and software engineers is now being sent overseas, and it looks like this trend is not going to change anytime soon, if ever.

The second reason is automation.

Put bluntly, when a computer or machine can do something faster and cheaper than a human being, he or she becomes economically irrelevant.

Third is the Age of Abundance in which we now live.

According to Pink, despite our current economic troubles, we are enjoying a wealth of products and services like no other time in history. But these products and services are increasingly becoming commodities. The only way to distinguish yourself in a commoditized market is by appealing to your customers on a non-rational level, by wrapping up your offering in human feeling and turning your attention to emotional and more “artistic” issues like packaging and branding.

Now, One might take issue with Pink’s assertion that we are living in an Age of Abundance. Some will aruge that are entering an Age of Scarcity. But in either case, it’s undeniable that the economic landscape has altered dramatically and new ways of thinking are required for us to fit in to this new reality.

This is what Pink means when he says that we need a “a whole new mind.” As our left-brain capacities become more commoditized, our right-brain capacities are where the future lies.

It’s those with “super-charged right-brains” who will lead us out of our current predicament. These are people who, rather than thinking sequentially, step-by-step and word-by-word, are able to absorb and synthesize a great deal of information all at once.

You can think of them as big picture thinkers who have developed a number of “senses” which will enable them thrive in our new economic environment.

Among those are a sense of design, a sense of story telling and a sense of “symphony,” which Pink describes as the ability to see connections between seemingly diverse pieces of information or disciplines and to connect apparently unconnected elements to create something new.

Despite the fact that Pink overlooks the importance of left-brain thinking to the creative process, a topic which I’ve discussed elsewhere, overall he’s on the mark.

The amazing success of Apple Computer is just one illustration of how creativity and design can enable a company to thrive, even in the toughest economy.

Moreover, studies already show that creative workers enjoy higher pay than their non-creative counterparts.

In Deloitte’s 2009 Shift Index, the consulting firm concluded that “…the types of talent that make up the workforce in creative cities are valued increasingly highly…”

Better yet, creativity can be learned, and it can be taught.

As someone who has spent his entire career as a professional creative, I know that creativity is as much an acquired skill as it is an in-born talent. With practice, discipline and the right training, anyone can be as creative as he or she wants.

Sure, we might be facing a creativity crisis. But thankfully, we are beginning to recognize the problem, and we have solutions.

If each and every one of us, in both our personal and professional lives, learns to be more creative in our thinking and our actions, if we develop our “whole new minds,” there’s just no telling how far we can go.

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