Creativity is the Key Skill for the 21st Century

By Dr. Mark Batey 


Synopsis: Against a backdrop of uncertainty, economic turmoil and unprecedented change a new picture is emerging of the skills and traits for success (and perhaps even simply survival) in the modern era. At the heart of this essential skillset for the future lies… creativity.  

A raft of recent research studies demonstrates that creativity is vital from the shopfloor to the boardroom and at the level of the individual to the organization as a whole.  What is more… our economic fortunes at a societal level probably rest on creativity too. Below are 7 (magnificent!) themes and some research studies that convinced me.  I wonder if they will convince you of the cruciality of creativity too.

  1. Creativity and innovation are the number 1 strategic priorities for organizations the world over. The Boston Consulting Group has been running an annual strategy survey for the last 8 years.  For 7 out of 8 years creativity and innovation have been the top ranked strategic imperative.  Hardly suprising – it is innovation and creativity that enable the development of new ways of working that ensure profitability.
  2. Creativity is part of all our day jobs. Many researchers would agree that creativity is concerned with producing ideas that are original and useful in order to solve problems and exploit opportunities.  When we consider creativity to be part of everyday problem-solving – we can see why the 2009 NESTA Everyday Innovation survey proposed that creativity was an integral part of modern work.  .  We can all find original and useful ways of solving the problems we encounter.  In some industries and sectors, it may not be so much that ‘we can’, but rather that ‘we must’.
  3. Organizational profitability rests on individual creativity. Academic researchers have begun to converge on the opinion that: “Considerable evidence now suggests that employee creativity can make a substantial contribution to an organization’s growth and competitiveness” (Baer & Oldham, 2006). Further in an article in The Economist it was suggested that the biggest challenge facing organizations is identifying and developing individuals with “brainpower (both natural and trained) and especially the ability to think creatively”  (Frymire, 2006).
  4. Creative teams perform better and are more efficient. In a research study of creative teams in industry, Gilson, Mathieu, Shalley and Ruddy (2005) found that teams that were more creative scored higher on objective measures of performance and were also found to work more effectively within budgets. Further, the studies that have examined High Performing Teams (Katzenbach & Smith, 2003), have found that these teams are characterised by their willingness to think creativity and find innovative solutions to problems.
  5. Creative organisations are more profitable. First, creative companies harness the creativity within the organization to improve or invent new products, processes and services.  As indicated in the Ernst & Young 2010  it was found that highly successful companies realise that: “the ability to manage, organise, cultivate and nurture creative thinking is directly linked to growth and achievement.”
  6. Creative Leadership is fundamental. The previous studies have shown that creativity is vital for individuals, teams and organizations.  Little wonder then that in aglobal survey of 1500 CEO’s, IBM found that creativity was considered to be the number 1 leadership trait for the future: “more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision – successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity.”
  7. Successful economies and societies will need to be creative. From an organisational perspective we can see why we must demand creativity from individuals, teams and the firm.  However, according to the 2010 Winning Ingredients report from Standard Chartered… successful economies will need to utilise cash, commodities and creativity.

Given that for much of the western world we have exhausted our supplies o

f cash and commodities, creativity may be all we have left. So there we have it.  7 themes that demonstrate that creativity is the number 1 skill for the 21st Century.

By Mark Batey CPsychol. PhD

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