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Creativity is the most important skill in the world.

According to a recent report published by LinkedIn, Creativity is the single most in demand soft skill by companies all around the world, and, macroeconomic trends suggest it will only become more important moving forward.

We now live in a world of unparalleled creative potential. The jobs that will exist twenty years from now haven’t even been invented yet. To succeed in that future, we need to cultivate creativity. It’s the most powerful tool that we have at our disposal. 

The Creativity Crisis

But – We’re in the midst of a creativity crisis. American schools are killing creativity. Students are taught what to think but not how to think. They’re educated to take standardized tests where blindly regurgitating facts without exercising their ability to think critically or creatively is the most rewarded skill.

“Our whole lives we’ve been taught how to please our teachers by performing well on tests” a student explains. “Now, we’re being asked to create something that’s not only of personal value, but positively impacts the world around us. We’ve never been asked to think this way before.”

As educational psychologist KH Kim, explains in her book, The Creativity Challenge, “America has an increasingly limited number of individuals who are capable of finding and implementing solutions to problems the nation faces today. If this trend isn’t reversed soon, we will be unable to tackle the challenges of the future.”

The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. Creative jobs that drive innovation are now the highest ‘value added’ jobs in the world. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs across 33 industries identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency of the future”. Companies like Google, Microsoft and NASA have explicitly voiced a demand for employees with both hard and soft skills. 

Process-driven jobs are quickly becoming obsolete. Artificial Intelligence is becoming a bigger part of this world. The economy of the future has no need for employees who follow the rules, recite mundane facts and repeat the same tasks over and over again. If our educational institutions want to stay competitive in the global economy of the future, they have to develop a workforce that is capable of doing creative work.

But, it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth.  Our world is full of problems that are crying out for creative solutions. 🗣Creativity drives social innovation. If we want to end poverty, solve world hunger or reverse the effects of climate change in our lifetime, we will need to exercise our imagination, think divergently and take risks.

Inventive vs Expressive Creativity

Many people believe that creativity is synonymous with art.

While “expressive creativity” is using creativity to express your thoughts and feelings through the arts like film, music, dance, theatre, photography etc., “inventive creativity” is using creativity to solve problems.

Expressive creativity has the powerful ability to change the hearts and minds of people. Inventive creativity is where we discover tangible solutions and solve old problems in new and innovative ways.

The Creative Mindsets

All forms of creativity make use of certain mindsets. First, we need to exercise our imagination through creative play. Then, explore our curiosity and strengthen our ability to think divergently. We must embrace ambiguity, understand the idea that failure is an iterative process and that risk is an essential component of success. 

Imagination + Play

Our imagination is a muscle. We have to exercise it. 

The ability to imagine is a superpower that we all possess. But unlike other muscles, it’s actually one that gets weaker as we age. The ability to envision a future for ourselves or a world that’s better than the one that we have now is a testament to our ability to use our imagination.

Within the context of innovation imagination is critical. We have to give ourselves permission to play and explore different possibilities. Our imagination enables us to generate creative ideas and try on different futures. Imagination is the doorway to possibilities. It’s where creativity, ingenuity, and “thinking outside the box” begin. Engaging in creative play is the best way that we can unlock the imagination. 

Divergence

If everyone thinks the same then no one thinks. Put simply, divergence means to separate from the main route and go in a different direction. Think about brands like Uber, Netflix and Warby Parker. Each have diverged from the norm and completely revolutionized the way we get around, consume digital content and shop for glasses respectively. Even people we’ve grown to admire like Oprah, Barack Obama and the Queen B herself, Beyoncé have built empires on going against the grain. All have discovered their own unique brand of creativity and all have demonstrated the power of divergent thinking.

Divergent thinking is a method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It is measured by “fluency” the number of ideas, “flexibility” the number of categories your ideas fall into, “elaboration” the level of detail you give to your ideas and “originality” the uniqueness of your ideas. This is why it’s really important that when generating ideas you try to come up with as many as you possibly can, don’t censor yourself and don’t judge your ideas as good or bad.

Your first idea is usually not your best idea. Adopting the practice of generating a lot of ideas and embracing even the wild and crazy or bad ones helps push us outside of our comfort zone and towards divergence.

Curiosity

Ask questions. The easiest way to tap into your natural curiosity is by asking lots and lots of questions. Instead of accepting everything you see, or bypassing things that don’t make sense to you, question everything. Answering these questions leads to more questions and opens the door to interesting insights, allowing you to stretch your curiosity muscles. 

Immerse yourself in new experiences. Immersion and curiosity reveal insights and opportunities that might otherwise remain hidden. Actively seek out experiences which pique your curiosity. Our actions lead to our passion. Passions grow from our experiences.

Exercise your imagination. We use our imagination to envision the landscape of our own life. The more imaginative we are, the more vividly we can conjure a landscape of possible paths. With a limited imagination, we’re doomed to doing the same thing as everyone else. 

Ambiguity

The human mind is, for the most part, set on being in the know. We don’t like being uncertain or confused, we seek answers and explanations, patterns we can recognize to make sense of what’s happening around us. In the face of an elusive solution, or a murky, messy problem, a lot of people become uncomfortable with the ambiguity.

This discomfort has driven invention and innovation for centuries. The need to understand, clarify and find an answer has opened the door to all sorts of advancements, especially in science and technology. But in the short term, it can be a liability. It’s exactly this drive to know absolutely everything that can get in the way of innovation. It makes us inclined to latch on to an answer too quickly rather than live in the uncertainty for a bit longer to see if a more suitable or interesting response is still at hand. Unknowingly, we trade possibility for certainty but there’s rarely anything novel about certainty.

So, how do we learn to tolerate embrace ambiguity? It means staying in uncertainty, or staying with the question, despite the discomfort of not knowing the answer, or not knowing where we’re headed. It requires relinquishing control to make room for new ideas and directions. It also means accepting the fact that there might be numerous ways of answering the same question, each with different but potentially positive results. Ambiguity leads to divergent thinking, curiosity, imagination and play.

Risk, Failure + Resilience

Albert Einstein couldn’t speak until age four, Walt Disney was fired for “lacking imagination” and J.K. Rowling was homeless and living in her car before she found someone to finally publish Harry Potter. Oprah was told she wasn’t fit for television, Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team and Steve Jobs was unceremoniously fired from the company he started. We’ve heard the stories of these “famous failures” and somehow think that these people are different, better or stronger than us?

“When we marvel at the original individuals who fuel creativity and drive change in the world, we tend to assume they’re cut from a different cloth. We think they’re wired to embrace uncertainty and ignore social approval; they simply don’t worry about the cost of non-conformity the way the rest of us do. They’re programmed to be iconoclasts, rebels, revolutionaries and mavericks who are impervious to fear, rejection and ridicule.

The truth is that Originals are actually far more ordinary than we realize. In every domain, from business and politics to science and art, the people who move the world forward with original ideas are rarely paragons of conviction and commitment. As they question traditions and challenge the status quo, they may appear bold and self-assured on the surface. But when you peel back the layers, the truth is that they, too grapple with fear, ambivalence and self-doubt.” – Adam Grant (The Originals)

In order to master this mindset we must understand that failure is an iterative process, meaning it’s the universe giving you another chance to get it right. Life is all about prototyping solutions, trying out different scenarios to see what works and what doesn’t. Just because you failed doesn’t make you a failure and big risks often yield big rewards.

We all have the power to be creative. We can exercise our creativity in how we design our lives and the work we do in the world. Imagination is a muscle. Play is not just for kids. A curious mind asks lots of questions and you should never be afraid to go against the status quo. You won’t have all the answers and that’s ok. You will likely fail and that’s ok too. A creative person is not fearless (as in without fear) but someone who acts despite of it. Adopting these mindsets will not only make you more appealing professionally, but will empower you to create the life and world that you want to see in the future.