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Waves of creativity – the tonic to manage the social impact of disruptive technologies

It was a privilege to spend a morning with Ken Robinson who talked about the pulse of innovation (thanks for the invite, Advice First). Ken’s history is as a teacher, writer, researcher, adviser and speaker… And I would add comedian – his dry sense of humour was a highlight. But I’m not sharing my thoughts on what he spoke about to be funny, he really made me think.

Waves of creativity - photo courtesy of Blair Corbett Photography
Waves of creativity - photo courtesy of Blair Corbett Photography

We started the day with one of Ken’s favourite quotes, broadly that human resources are like natural resources. You often need to really dig deep to understand people so you can help them develop and really shine. This was good context, because the ‘tonic’ for the upcoming technology revolution is human. This technology-enabled change will turn the world on its head in way we may never see again in such a tight timeframe. In short, the complexity, scale and speed of this change will be unique. Therefore it will take all our creative capability to ensure it provides a positive outcome for everyone.

In sharing his misconceptions of creativity, Ken really hit a cord with me:

  • Creative people are special – Some have it, but most don’t, is simply not true – we all have it!
  • Creativity is only associated with special things – For instance the arts, but in reality, we can see creativity with anything that involves application of intelligence. In some cases, small things can have a major impact.
  • You can’t make people creative – Yes you can, it’s just about consistent focus, training and operationalising this within a business’s culture.

So what made me sit back and think?

  • The true nature of companies – That management theories see business as mechanisms when they are really organisms. Create the wrong climate or culture and they will die, in particular when it comes to innovation and creativity.
  • Ideation must become routine – Constant work on imagination (the gateway), creativity (the process) will yield innovation (the result). Imagination is bringing present to mind, what is not already done, with creativity being applied imagination, the process of creating original ideas that add value.
  • Curiosity is vital – we all had it at a young age – the stream of questions drove my parents crazy.  We need to watch our roles as parents, caregivers and leaders and how we encourage freshness of vision and create a culture of curiosity.

So what advice did Ken give when it comes to bringing creativity to life?

First and foremost be practical, drive constant prototyping and set people challenges. It’s our job as leaders to make space for this to occur, in fact it’s our job to shield our people from the pressure of the Board or the market and allow them to operate in a manner that is somewhat free from the traditional flow-down management pressure that would destroy a culture of creativity.

As the morning closed the discussion landed on the future of work, and let’s be honest you would have to be living under a rock to not know that a massive and transformational change is at our doorstep. We have Artificial Intelligence that will be the most pervasive, but more than likely least invasive change we have ever encountered in any industrial or technical evolution. Adding to this automation, democratisation of fabrication through 3D printing and autonomous vehicles will have work force impacts that are worrying.

Who is going to make sure society comes out of this revolution in good shape? Well, for a start Ken suggested we simply should not rely on the politicians! Citing #METO as a cultural revolt against misuse of power and that the largest modern-day protest in the US just occurred in reaction to the Parkland shooting, indicating the strength of the new generations’ voice. People have more power than ever before, all rapidly enabled through the connected real time world we live in, where news can come from the strangest places and go viral in no time at all.

The most sobering research Ken shared was in relation to our current population (7.5b) and research on the consumption of the world’s resources.  If we all consumed like your average family in India we could sustain a higher population (15b), but if we all consume like your average North American family we are in trouble because the current population mass is already a problem (1.5b)!

Ken closed the session, sharing that he is optimistic that we as a creative and intelligent race will survive.  Our tenacity, creativity and sheer will, will help us avoid technology creating a world that would be the equivalent of Mad Max. It makes you think, and made me think… What’s my role in avoiding this, both as a business leader and a father?  

Posted by: Steve Scarbrough, General Manager Business Applications, Intergen | 10 April 2018

Tags: Creativity, innovation

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