There has been a lot of talk lately about the future of work. Recent articles in Forbes, Inc. and other publications offer up some of the key ways our jobs and work will change in the future. While the authors provide many varied predictions, there is alignment around these five key areas:

  • More fluid workplaces without organizational charts where positions and responsibilities evolve continuously within a single company.
  • Mobile technology will make decentralized and distributed work even more widespread and effective.
  • Freelance, short-term contracts — gig work — will continue to grow, requiring a vastly different view of (and approach to) what employment means.  
  • The trend toward lifelong learning will increase as the most sure path to staying relevant in our changing world.
  • Creative problem-solving, collaboration and communication are the most critical work skills necessary for the 21st century.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Forbes article is that workers “will need to act and engage in lifelong learning, so they are adaptable when the changes happen. The lifespan for any given skill set is shrinking, so it will be imperative for individuals to continue to invest in acquiring new skills. The shift to lifelong learning needs to happen now because the changes are already happening.

Since human resources experts and business leaders cite creative problem-solving, collaboration and communication as the most critical work skills necessary for the 21st century, I would argue that the core focus of lifelong learning must be across these soft skills.

While many people already perform their current jobs with high levels of soft skills, it’s important to remember that mastering creativity and imagination, for example, is not something you learn once and then reapply forever. Culture changes, technology changes, society changes, the world changes and our jobs change. Because your current job will evolve significantly or be completely eliminated multiple times during your career horizon, these soft skills require on-going practice and development outside the scope of your current day-to-day job function to maintain potency, adaptability and effectiveness.

Like it or not, you will need to exercise your creativity, collaboration and communications to build muscle memory for any new job function or life challenge ahead.

Creative Athletes

Speaking of muscle memory and exercise, let’s examine the performance of top athletes. The most successful are those who demonstrate creativity, collaboration and communication on the field, pitch or court. They are able to respond with amazing beauty and seemingly effortless simplicity to almost every challenge that comes at them.

In sports, there is virtually no “right answer” to winning — every moment of every game is unscripted with nearly infinite possible moves/strategies.  Victory comes not from knowing the answers, but from a deep understanding that only constant “inquiry, adjustment and creative response” coupled with a mastery of core skills, can result in success.

And here’s what’s important for all of us to understand. When an athlete makes it to the professional level in any sport, she doesn’t suddenly stop the practice and fitness regimen that got her there to rely only on her experience. In all likelihood, she is working harder at developing both the hard and soft skills of her sport. Once “in the pros,” she doesn’t only go out and play in the games. She will rack up thousands of hours practicing skills and drills, continue her focus on overall fitness and nutrition, speed and strength to prepare her body and mind for any possibility that might be called upon in order to perform at peak levels.

So why is our career any different? Or, for that matter, why is any professional or personal vocation any different?

Experts have already established that creative thinking and problem solving are the most critical skills needed in the world today, so why aren’t more of us focused on improving creative fitness? Or at least beginning to understand the power of becoming better creative “athletes?”

And, if someone were to pursue this line of thinking, what are the skills and drills necessary to keep our creativity fully rounded and at peak levels? How often should we engage in our creative practice? How can we better prepare mentally and physically for the unpredictable and constantly changing dynamics of our world in order to be more successful in almost any endeavor?

Just as with sports, success in the future of work will go to creative thinkers who are not trained with absolute answers to existing situations, but to those with the ability to see and learn from their environment, then quickly and fearlessly apply imaginative ideas to create new opportunities for winning.

Creative Practice

There are some who say you can’t learn to be more creative. I’m not one of those people. I’ve spent the past ten years identifying and evaluating the component parts of creativity to elevate my “game” which has helped me excel at a number of exciting and fulfilling jobs across multiple industries.

But how does one break down a concept as mysterious and seemingly unavailable to most people as creativity? To be honest it wasn’t that difficult.  After quiet reflection and meditation on the creative processes employed in my life and work, as well as studying creativity “experts” for over a decade, the not-so-secret formula for increasing creativity almost wrote itself.  Like learning most other valuable skills, however, the formula may be simple and obvious, but the results lie in our diligence activating it.

If you are serious about being a more creative person at work, in your community and with your family, you will need to commit to a well-balanced creative practice. Or said another way: Often, the people we find who are most creative, are those people who are creative most often.

If you are interested in learning more about building a creative practice into your life, please email me for more information.