Naturally, there are many qualities which are important to career progression; motivation, dedication and ambition are all key ingredients in the recipe of success. Yet, I’m here to argue that the most important trait of all is creativity. And I’m not alone in my thinking: The Future of Jobs Survey from the World Economic Forum undertook analysis of thousands of companies to identify which skills would be the most important by 2025, and “innovative thinking” got top billing alongside “critical thinking”.
Once upon a time, knowledge was power. But today – in the information age and in a world succumbing more and more to the power of automation – it will take more than information to get ahead. Algorithms aren’t just something used by social media companies, they are sophisticated problem-solving calculations which, one day soon, may replace everything from accounting to healthcare professionals. In other words, you can’t outlogic a machine or generate more data than a search engine… But there are things you can still do. Forget just a competitive advantage, in career development these days you need to be thinking about what gives you a human advantage. Well, keep reading to find out exactly why creativity is essential to your career development.
By the time we get into our careers, we think we’re all done with education. Yet, sadly, many of us didn’t receive quality lessons on critical thinking or creativity in our school years. Much of the education system focuses on the acquisition of knowledge and nothing more. The learning pyramid shows us that absorbing knowledge through reading and lecturing is considered the shallowest form of learning. That’s not to mention that such linear learning methods are frequently non-inclusive for neurodivergent learners who are more attuned to visual, creative methods of learning (no wonder they tend to be more creative than neurotypical individuals in general).
In short, it’s time to give yourself a new education in creativity and critical thinking. Contrary to popular belief, creativity can be learned – and critical thinking is one of the stepping stones along the way. There is no direct correlation between creativity and DNA, instead it’s something we foster through practice. Critical thinking means engaging with knowledge more actively, while creativity involves the fusing of old knowledge to produce new, novel ideas. Embarking on a new creative education is the first step to ensuring your career development follows a steep incline of success. Whether it’s tackling a hard-to-solve problem or brainstorming for new ways to gain a competitive advantage, critical thinking is what will set you apart from the crowd. Yes, knowledge no longer equals power. However, the ability to engage with information critically and re-educate yourself in all things innovation and creativity will impress recruiters and bosses alike – after all, in an increasingly automated world more and more companies are looking to hire movers and shakers who can bring new perspectives to their company and teams.
Now that we know knowledge alone is unhelpful in providing a competitive advantage in isolation, however that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful as a starting point. We live in a fast-moving era, the conveyor belt of social media platforms and constant ding of notifications often keep us from engaging with information deeply and critically. This is a problem because the processing of information is the first step in creativity. As Steve Jobs once said, creativity is just about having dots to join. But where do those dots come from? Knowledge itself.
However, in order to engage with information critically, you must check your thinking and the knowledge you do have. What are your assumptions, what are your pre-existing beliefs, and how are these feeding into your interpretation of pieces of knowledge? Perhaps the most common issue in the internet era is a case of groupthink. As social animals, humans are naturally influenced by the opinions of those we respect (and conversely those we don’t). By learning to address these errors in your thinking, you can instil critical thinking into your every day. Critical thinking naturally produces new perspectives, lending it perfectly to creativity and problem solving. Not only are these the skills of the future, they are the differentiators which will mark you out from other candidates while climbing the career ladder. They will also enable you to better analyse opportunities in order to find the best roles and companies for you to ultimately advance your career in the most efficient and advantageous way possible.
Contrary to the doomsaying about automation, the rise of artificial intelligence might just be a good thing for humanity. There is a natural link between creativity and job satisfaction – and yes, that even goes for those of you who don’t consider yourself “creative” – while the more mundane aspects of the working world will be automated, there will be more room than ever before for genuine human ingenuity. No surprise, then, that it will be those who embrace creativity in their career who go the furthest. And to truly get ahead, the best time is to start now.
Creativity is the one area in which we will always have an advantage over artificial intelligence. It is a uniquely human trait, and one which blossoms with encouragement, just like a tree in sunlight. To keep a constant flow of creative ideas you must learn to throw out the biases which blind you to fresh perspectives and original ideas. Once you have done that, you can follow creative best practices to encourage everyday creativity: everything from daydreaming breaks (a zen mind brews better ideas!) to reverse brainstorming (seeking ways to worsen a problem in order to gain new perspective on finding a solution). Putting such frameworks in place in your everyday work will ensure your creativity blossoms, and your career advances.
Career development stretches over a lifetime, and in our increasingly busy over-stimulated world, it is creativity which will give you longevity in a fast-changing working environment. Whether it’s protecting your career from the tide of automation, or seeking new ways to develop and grow into your own areas of interest, it will be creative thinking which enables you to not only excel in interviews but better understand how to strategise to reach your ultimate dream job. There may not be a single line to success, but there’s no road which doesn’t involve creativity – take it from some of the world’s most successful business people and entrepreneurs, from Richard Branson to Arianna Huffington. So start getting creative and watch your career reach new heights.
The need for systemised creativity was my main motivation for writing The Creative Thinking Handbook, by professionalising your approach to creativity, you can guarantee career success and longevity.
Chris Griffiths and Caragh Medlicott are authors of The Creative Thinking Handbook: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Problem Solving in Business.
Chris Griffiths is founder and CEO of OpenGenius, and world-leading expert on the application of innovation and Mind Mapping®. He has helped drive business growth for thousands worldwide, including teams and individuals from Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies.
Caragh Medlicott is a full-time freelance writer and a Senior Editor at Wales Arts Review.