Since the dawn of the first industrial revolution, machines have largely been used to improve efficiency. We’ve now entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an era in which machines will become smart, self-optimizing themselves and the systems in which they operate. It’s a shift that’s shaping many of the megatrends, one that Douglas Lines and myself have identified at International Business and Executive Management [IBEM}, that are in turn changing how the world works.
Gartner stated for the record: ‘Digital transformation is more successful with a positive shift in culture. In fact, 80% of enterprises will change their culture as a way to accelerate their digital transformation strategy’.
Some have seen this as the rise of the robots – a dystopian future of mass unemployment and dehumanization as intelligent machines do away with the need for people.
But history suggests that while new technologies may end the need for human involvement in some tasks, they will usually also enable the creation of entirely new jobs – even entirely new industries. The challenge isn’t the technology – it’s to be creative in reimagining how to use it to generate fresh opportunities, value and growth.
Success and growth won’t be achieved by focusing on technology alone, because technology is no more than a tool that enables us to develop goods and services that humans need. The real skill isn’t in developing technological solutions, it’s in identifying what people want – and then finding the best ways to deliver. The question isn’t how to use the technology, it’s what impact that technology can have.
Ask any CEO in the world to write a top-five wish list, and we guarantee that “more ideas—better ideas!” will show up in some form. Most likely it’ll be right at the top. CEOs know that ideas and innovation are the most precious currency in the new economy and, increasingly, in the old economy as well. Without a constant flow of ideas, a business is condemned to obsolescence.
There are three primary ways technology – and especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) – can encourage human creativity in meeting human needs:
– Freeing up time for humans to focus on innovation.
– Offering opportunities to creatively combine technologies to create new ways of working.
– Actively augmenting human decision-making, by adding a layer of machine-driven data analysis to guide our creative choices.
Today, the division of labour between human and machines/algorithms across total task hours looks like this:
– Humans: 71%
– Machines/Algorithms: 29%
By 2025, according to a report by the World Economic Forum, it’s predicted to be:
– Humans: 58%
– Machines/Algorithms: 42%
While this shift naturally generates both excitement and fear, stories about the future of work are often technology-focused and, therefore, fail to capture one aspect I find critical: As machines/algorithms automate once-impossible tasks and replace those that are repetitive and laborious, it is likely that creativity will increasingly become a vital (and, further down the road, measurable) skill of the modern worker.
LinkedIn recently analysed the skills listed on profiles of candidates who are getting hired at the fastest rate and found creativity to be the top “soft” skill. The report’s summary stated that this result wasn’t surprising: “Organisations everywhere need people who can innovate and conceive fresh ideas and solutions.”
“The human spirit must prevail over technology.” —Albert Einstein
You cannot go back to the stone age. You must embrace artificial intelligence (AI) and the fourth industrial revolution (FIR). Humans evolved from the stone age to the space age because of the power of imagination and creativity. Technology creates dialogue among researchers and people. It cannot replace creativity. It can complement creativity. Therefore, treat technology as an ally, not an enemy to take forward human civilization in the right direction. To conclude, humans must know how to harness technology for the benefit of humankind.
According to an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry, soft skills are more accurately referred to as CORE (competence in organisational and relational effectiveness) skills. This definition is likely to cause less confusion than “soft.”
In line with LinkedIn’s findings are those from the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2018,” which lists creativity as one of the major skill groups in demand today and set to grow through 2022. With creativity rising, the heat is on to tie its impact not only to disruptive, industry-changing ideas, but also to key performance indicators throughout the company. And future research is likely to shine more light on the dichotomy between what companies believe and say about creativity and their actual practice.
One global study from Adobe offers a glimpse into this: While 76% of respondents say companies that invest in creativity are more likely to have happier employees, 77% also believe there is increasing pressure to be productive rather than creative at work.
Business leaders spend considerable time thinking about how to best keep up with technological advancements to prepare their companies for the future of work. While addressing this is an important, ongoing process, few seem to be considering an equally important topic: how they’ll improve their organisation’s creativity skills.
To take one example, a drone on its own is little more than a fancy radio-controlled helicopter – a toy. A drone with a camera is a surveillance tool. A drone with a camera, depth-sensors, a robotic arm, and AI is an autonomous tool that can radically change how we use warehouse space or deliver goods to customers by finding more efficient transport routes. Meanwhile, more traditional companies are still using slower, less efficient human-driven fork-lift trucks.
The next ten years will see an explosion of innovation as smart technologies mature and ever more businesses use them in combination with existing and emerging technologies to create radical new approaches to doing business and meet the ever-changing needs of their customers.
But remember this isn’t about the technology itself, no matter how creatively it’s combined. The pace of technological change will continue to accelerate – no one piece of technology will be enough to give a lasting competitive advantage in such an environment.
The truly successful businesses will be the ones that realize their transformation isn’t a one-off change to adopt the latest technological tools, but an ongoing process – with the needs of people placed firmly as the focal point of innovative efforts, not the capabilities of the currently available tools.
Looking to 2030 and beyond, the impact of such human-focused innovation could radically change how the world works. The number of possible permutations is vast – and when AI enables these new combinatorial creations to continuously self-optimize, they should get continually more impactful.
It’s time for us to reframe our relationship with technology, reimagining how to use technologies to meet real human needs, enable new ways of working, and power human enterprise. With the right approach, people can be both the drivers and beneficiaries of technological change, unlocking new paths to value and human engagement, helping us reinvent our organizations to be ready for what’s next, and fully realizing human potential.
It’s one thing to create a technology, but it’s another to use it to transform how a business operates.
To unlock AI’s true potential and unleash human creativity, businesses should seek to shake off their preconceptions and reimagine the fundamentals of how their industry operates – and what purposes they serve for their customers.
As you reimagine what your business and industry could look like in the next five to ten years, you should also start thinking how you can reshape your operations to make your vision as effective as possible:
Use technology to do the mundane, freeing up humans to focus on the higher-level creative thinking and strategic decision-making that add true long-term value.
Combine technologies to create better ways of working.
Focus on finding ways of deploying AI not just to replace humans, but to guide their creative choices.
A successful strategy for driving long-term value and growth will never come solely from upgrading your tools – it’s from ensuring your strategies and processes meet the needs of your human customers and employees. Even the most cutting-edge technology alone will never be a lasting solution – just a way of enabling better ways of meeting those needs.
Finally, rather than be worried about the rise of AI, businesses should embrace the opportunity technology brings to unleash a new wave of human creativity and power human enterprise. It can free up time for innovation, provide new combinations of technologies to enable better ways of working, and help guide us on the path towards even more effective creative ideas.
With so many societal signals pushing us toward technology (and to become data-driven rather than data-informed, a critical distinction), the push to reskill will no doubt involve a heavy focus on technology. As a result, there exists an opening for those willing to tread the less obvious, more human path toward developing a CORE (competence in organisational and relational effectiveness) skill that can amplify all others.
Finally, those who work to build their creative capacity are likely to be rewarded, especially if they can document which creative decisions they make, how they bring them to life and the impact on company performance.
Kenya Hara, a Japanese graphic designer, curator and writer once said:
“Creativity is to discover a question that has never been asked. If one brings up an idiosyncratic question, the answer he gives will necessarily be unique as well.”