Why creativity matters for 21st-century business success

Why creativity matters for 21st-century business success

Innovation Method
Published On:
May 22, 2023

In 2010, IBM’s Global CEO study surprisingly revealed that 60% of the surveyed global CEOs considered creativity the most critical leadership trait to succeed in the early 21st century. Interestingly, numerous comparatively recent studies echo this view with regards to the need for leaders to identify and develop creative talents within their organizations:

  • In a PWC study in 2017, 77% of the surveyed CEOs reported they struggled to find the creativity and innovation skills they needed.
  • When LinkedIn surveyed corporate leaders in 2019 for the most critical business skill, creativity came out first. Hence, LinkedIn labeled creativity as “the most important skill in the world.”
  • In its 2020 report titled Future of Jobs, the World Economic Forum listed the top 15 skills needed to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Creativity and innovation are related to four out of the top 5 skills (and two more skills within the top 10) identified as having growing importance and demand until 2025.

All these studies emphasize the critical importance of creativity as an essential business skill. I even go one step further and argue that creativity will be an essential success factor for individuals, companies, and economies alike in the coming two decades. Here are four reasons why.

1. Creatively maneuver a VUCA world that SUCCS

Unlike the relatively stable second half of the 20th century (the golden age of management), the business environment of the early 21st century is highly dynamic. In his book The Extreme Future, the US futurist James Canton identified five drivers underlying most trends in the coming decades – speed, uncertainty and risk, complexity, change, and surprise. A related (though less comprehensive) concept originating from the military is VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity). Put together, I like to say that we’re living in a VUCA world that SUCCS. How can you successfully maneuver such a highly dynamic world?

Professor Albert Einstein noted correctly. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” We need to think differently. We need to think more creatively and move to a higher level of creative consciousness.

2. Creatively thrive in the Creativity Economy

In its economic development, humanity has moved into the creativity economy. We started as hunters and gatherers. With the neolithic revolution starting around 10,000 B.C., we evolved into an agricultural society. Two hundred fifty years ago, the industrial revolution elevated us into the industrial economy. Fifty years ago, we moved into the Knowledge Economy. Already slowly beginning in the late noughties and early 2010s, we have ascended to the newest level, the Creativity Economy (also known as Innovation Economy or Age of Creation Intensification), which will come into full steam in this and the coming two decades. And guess what soft skill and leadership trait will help you thrive in the Creativity Economy? Creativity.  

3. Creatively ride the Sixth Wave of leading-edge innovation

In 2020, a new macroeconomic long cycle (also known as Kontratiev-wave) has begun. The Sixth Wave of leading-edge economic development (see also the article Learn about long waves to better ride the next one (Part 1) | (Part 2) | (Part 3)) will lead to massive levels of economic progress driven by three leading-edge technologies:

  • digital tech (e.g., Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual and Augmented Reality, VR & AR), the blockchain, and the Metaverse, among others),
  • human-centered tech (biotechnology, genomics, bioelectronics, among others); and
  • cleantech (clean energy, clean production, clean environment, clean transportation among others, which is all pointing to a more sustainable economy in line with the motto “less but better”).

The inaugural post in the Thinkergy blog noted already 15 years ago that great innovation always begins with creativity – with a great idea coming out of one or more individual brains. So, outstanding creativity will be the impetus and starting point behind many Sixth Wave innovations that are currently in the making or are to be conceived in the coming years.

4. Creatively hedge your career against automation

As many of the studies cited at the beginning of this post indicate, creativity is also a vital soft skill if you plan for a successful career or need to pivot what you’re currently doing. Why? Clearly, the three drivers mentioned before have already made a point for creativity. But there is another reason: The automation of workflows will expand from blue-collar to white-collar jobs by the end of this decade. New digital technologies (such as AI and big data analysis) will mean that computer programs will take on many tasks handled by specialized knowledge worker roles based mainly on analytical thinking (such as a credit analyst or an investment portfolio manager). Of course, the most passionate and savvy professionals in these analytical professions will still be needed to do the tough jobs. Still, experts predict that 70-80% of jobs will be gone.

So how can you set yourself up for a successful career in the coming years? Embrace creativity, as jobs that require higher levels of creativity and empathy will rise in importance (as will those that need digital capabilities).

Conclusion: Get creative to thrive in the coming two decades

Creativity is the essential soft skill for individual talents and leaders alike to creatively maneuver a VUCA world that SUCCS, thrive in the Creative Economy, ride the Sixth Wave, and set up for a sustainably successful and meaningful career. Amen.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022. This article is earmarked to be co-published in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.