Tuesday, September 15, 2015

‘Sputnik Moment’: Urgent Need to Learn and Teach Creative Thinking Skills

by Marcus Conyers, guest blogger
“The problem is that there are only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs in the world. This is a potentially devastating global shortfall of about 1.8 billion good jobs. It means that global unemployment for those seeking a formal good job with a paycheck and 30+hours of steady work approaches a staggering 50%.”—Jim Clifton, The Coming Jobs War (2011, p. 2).
In That Used to Be Us, Friedman and Mandelbaum (2011) make the case that for organizations to survive and individuals to thrive, each of us must harness the power of imagination and enhance our capacity for creativity and innovation to deliver that necessary something “extra.”

We can better prepare students for that uncertain future through explicit instruction on how and when to use cognitive skills that are the everyday tools of innovators and entrepreneurs so that they may take their place in what Richard Florida (2014) calls the creative class. At the core of the creative class are people whose “chief economic function is to create new ideas, new technology, and new creative content.”

Developing this skill set is imperative for success in an evolving and devastatingly tight job market:
  • The creative class makes up one-third to nearly one-half of the workforce in the economically advanced nations of North America, Europe, and Asia. It represents about 40 million jobs in the United States.
  • Even as traditional skills are being outsourced or rendered obsolete through automation, creative and innovating skills are hot commodities.
  • The current limited opportunities for education and training in these skills contribute to the deepening economic divide—the difference between landing good-paying jobs with opportunities for advancement and minimum-wage work—underscoring the critical need to empower this generation with the creative and innovative thinking skills that will increase their opportunities.
  • An Adobe Systems poll of 5,000 people on three continents reports that 80% see unlocking creative potential as crucial to economic growth, but only 25% feel they are living up to their creative potential.
  • A recent IBM survey of more 1,500 CEOs reports that creativity is the single most prized competency among employees and managers.

The Creativity Crisis

All of this is occurring at a time when we are experiencing what has been identified as a creativity crisis. Research on creativity—how well people generate ideas, how original their ideas are, and how they persist in the work of turning ideas into effective action—shows a steady decline in skills related to creativity and innovation over the past 20 years.

One study, for example, found that the vast majority of young children start school exhibiting high levels of creativity, which decline steadily throughout the school years into adulthood, leading one researcher to conclude that “non-creative behavior is learned.” Research indicates that creativity has declined steadily in the United States since the 1990s across key domains (Kim, 2012).

In an era where virtually all new jobs created are in small and mid-sized enterprises, we must find ways to nurture innovative thinking and entrepreneurial mindsets in today’s workforce and in students who will be the future job candidates—and proprietors—of those enterprises.

As Richard Florida, author of Rise of the Creative Class, puts it, “Prosperity in the Creative Age turns on human potential. It can only be fully realized when each and every worker is recognized and empowered as a source of creativity—when their talents are nurtured.”

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first human-built satellite into orbit around the Earth—and so began the space race with the United States that spawned a remarkable decade of engineering and exploration ending in astronauts walking on the moon. The current creativity crisis should be our wake-up call to better prepare students to become tomorrow’s innovators.

Note: This post draws from research that Marcus did for an article, “Innovating Minds—What Students Need for the Future,” for Information Age Education (IAE).

Clifton, J. (2011). The coming jobs war. Omaha, NE: Gallup Press.

Florida, R. (2014). Rise of the creative class. New York: Basic Books.

Friedman, T.L., & Mandelbaum, M. (2011). That used to be us. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

Kim, K.H. (2012, July 10). Yes, there is a creativity crisis. The Creativity Post. Retrieved from http://www.creativitypost.com/education/yes_there_is_a_creativity_crisis.

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