Recruiting and Managing Creative Talent to Inspire Innovation
Technology and organizational strategies today are bound together in a world striving for performance improvement. It’s hard to dispute that every company has, in a sense, become a technology company. The digital world drives the material world to a tremendous extent these days. It’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing.
As economist Thomas Pinketty predicts in his groundbreaking work Capital in the Twenty-First Century, much of the economic growth we can expect to see between this year and 2025 will flow from advances in computing, artificial intelligence, data and robotics. Despite the positive impacts these developments could make, financially and functionally, there remain reasonable skeptics who have concerns about the income inequality and vocational losses this sort of mechanized society might create. They offer dire scenarios in which robots replace all human labor -- the only monetary gains going to those who own, manufacture or control the machines.
MIT Professor Zeynep Ton explains in The Good Jobs Strategy that these examples fail to paint a broader, more realistic picture. Even the most powerful systems require human input and judgment; a purely technological approach to work and civilization would eventually collapse. The relevance and importance of the human element can’t be ignored. Artificial intelligence (AI) can’t exist and grow without the context of the human experience to inform it. Cognitive scientists refer to this discrepancy as the availability bias: people tend to place greater emphasis on information that’s easy to come by, such as data on a spreadsheet, rather than intangibles like the realities involved in the everyday interactions and operations of a business.
So as we scramble to keep pace with technology and narrow our educational focus on STEM skills, we’re neglecting the very important role that creativity plays in the process.
Creativity -- The Ghost in the Machine
It’s easy to succumb to the notion that scientists are stuffy, smock-wearing, bespectacled people who are obsessed with numbers and formulas. Yet without a creative impulse, imagination, vision and an understanding of society, it’s hard to believe that any real scientific accomplishments would have arisen. Science requires creativity for continued innovation. No invention was envisioned without curiosity and ambition: the dreamer gazing at the stars in wonder, the biologist fighting to cure a terrible disease, the electrical engineer helping to overcome obstacles in the way of communications, and other pioneers motivated by a need to improve our quality of life.
This sentiment is articulately echoed by astrophysicists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Adam Frank. Both men of science not only acknowledge the necessity of the humanities, they embrace liberal arts as a crucial backbone to scientific achievement. In a recent piece for NPR, Frank advocated for the value of the arts in academia: “In spite of being a scientist, I strongly believe an education that fails to place a heavy emphasis on the humanities is a missed opportunity. Without a base in humanities, both the students -- and the democratic society these students must enter as informed citizens -- are denied a full view of the heritage and critical habits of mind that make civilization worth the effort.”
Frank provides a solid reason for his conclusion: “The old barriers between the humanities and technology are falling. Historians now use big-data techniques to ask their human-centered questions. Engineers use the same methods -- but with an emphasis on human interfaces -- to answer their own technology-oriented questions.”
In the future, computers will probably assume a greater share of the work duties currently tasked to human talent, including programming and data analysis. We can’t presume that automation won’t replace or commoditize certain skill sets. Realistically, however, there’s a limit to what machines will be able to do. As Rally Health’s Tom Perrault observes in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “What can’t be replaced in any organization imaginable in the future is precisely what seems overlooked today: liberal arts skills, such as creativity, empathy, listening, and vision. These skills, not digital or technological ones, will hold the keys to a company’s future success. And yet companies aren’t hiring for them. This is a problem for today’s digital companies, and it’s only going to get worse.”
Technology and Creativity Play Well Together
Creative talent enjoy taking risks. They see these gambles as necessary systems of trial and error that lead to true innovation. Just like the world’s most renowned scientists, creative talent operate empirically. Missteps and failures don’t deter them -- they instruct them.
Not only do creative professionals take risks, they refuse to quit in the face of shortcomings, defects or even rebuke from colleagues, managers or others in their communities. They are inherently optimistic and see risks as opportunities. Henry Ford’s first vehicle, a motorized four-wheeled bike of sorts, failed. Miserably. Instead of throwing in the towel, he learned from the mistake and went on to pioneer the Model T. While working for the Kansas City Star, Walt Disney was told by his editor that he lacked imagination and marketable ideas. Obviously, that harsh critique did little to stifle Mr. Disney’s formidable future achievements -- all symbols of imagination and clever marketing.
Of course, the interesting corollary to these examples is how both creative geniuses promoted technology, instead of working against it. Ford radically shifted methods of transit and work. He absolutely threatened the horse-and-buggy industry, yet his company created countless more jobs around the world. Ford also renovated the nature of labor with assembly line processes that delivered inexpensive goods to consumers while supporting high wages for workers.
Walt Disney is a grandfather of realistic audio animatronics. You can’t visit a Disney attraction and not marvel at the robotic characters at the heart of the rides. Yet, the magic of a Disney theme park isn’t all technology -- it’s the exceptional customer service and interaction provided by live talent. The same rings true for Disney and Pixar films. The leaps and bounds in computer animation technology never surpass the humanity of the stories, which comes from writers, artists and voice actors.
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