It is not the robots we should worry about when it comes to the future of creative careers – instead we should be looking at our schools. 

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As humans, we like to fear the worst. We worry about many things, but front of mind for many at the moment is the possibility that robots will steal our jobs. It sounds like a movie. In fact, I think it was. There is definitely a grain of truth in it, but will it apply to all jobs? What does it mean for creative jobs roles? The shift in labour leaves room for more emphasis on the skills that people are good at: Solving problems and adding the ‘human’ element to what could become an algorithm-led process.


The creative revolution cometh

Machines can help us do our jobs better. But in order to get there, we humans need to be open to learning about how we can do our jobs in partnership with machines, instead of warring against them. The clear need for a human element means that it is looking good for creative jobs, because creativity is all about problem solving and critical thinking, and that is the gap left by machine thinking.

As composer and cellist Margaret Schedel puts it so well in an interview for the BBC:

“I think we can really, absolutely, use machines to augment our own creativity and create music that neither humans or computers could make by themselves. I think that is thrilling.”

Margaret Schedel is the director of computer music at Stony Brook University in New York, and we will come back to the topic of computer music shortly.


Know your 4 c’s

Whilst we cannot predict the future, we know that a certain set of skills is going to be essential for the workforce of the next 10-15 years. Cognitive skills such as originality and fluency of ideas, as well as interpersonal skills and decision making are highlighted as core needs. And creative subjects are identified as being especially good at developing those skills.

However, education will have to evolve. The current emphasis on testing is not fit for purpose in a world where information recall won’t help you think laterally about how to improve or innovate. Progressive institutions around the world are starting to teach and nurture children in a way that promotes all the aspects of creative thinking and prepares them for the roles that can do what machines and algorithms cannot. The 4 C’s: collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity, also known as 21st century skills, are the toolkit believed to be necessary for survival in the world we see unfolding over the next few decades. And as noted, they worship at the altar of creativity – they are all about lateral thinking and working with others in order to make positive things happen. Forward thinking schools around the globe are educating children in a way that promotes these skills – and some are even assessing them through this lens.


The human touch

So whilst it is of course important that we have technical know-how, and perhaps a few of us can code and understand robotics, it is really the understanding of aptly named ‘humanities’ subjects that will give a greater perspective and understanding of how to put technology and intelligence to use in the best possible way.

Art, psychology, philosophy, sociology and all their associated subjects focus on understanding humans and the context of the world in which they live. It is this broad, cultural knowledge and a cross-disciplinary approach that will be the tools and skills a creative of the future will need to have in his or her possession.

Even the tech giants of Silicon Valley are acknowledging the need to be ‘more human’, evidenced by the fact that they are seeking to hire more ethicists.

Collaborate to innovate

It seems like the future is bright for creative jobs, at least for the short term. It also is for relationship building roles. These jobs will thrive in our near future, as the need for working with others demands that human bonds will be developed and nurtured, and that we have empathy. Fortunately for humans, these are not skills that robots possess (yet). There will be more roles that require collaboration and co-operation: Roles that blend disciplines and require an ability to understand many different angles to a problem or viewpoints on an opportunity. Like a project manager, but amplified, and with greater variety. We could perhaps call them ‘empathetic generalists’, or simply just polymaths.

For the executors of ‘fusionist’ roles, the need to do a ‘bit of this’ and a ‘bit of that’ will be core to their being, and they will thrive off bringing their multiple and diverse interests together in a new and innovative way. This is a personality trait that is becoming more openly celebrated, as we see rocket scientists make jewellery in their spare time, and artists who are also lawyers and doctors. The straight and narrow path to success is no longer trodden so happily or easily, as the status quo is increasingly questioned and dissolved. This is happening more and more amongst teens and Millennials, who are raised to believe that they can follow their hearts and do what they love, so they do not see the benefit in following the same route as everyone else.

As startup culture becomes a disease that every big corporation wants to catch, we will be see­ing more demand for ‘interventionists’. These people play the role of ‘startup-brain’ in big companies or simply in workshops, asking the difficult and often uncomfortable questions. They challenge and provoke long-standing beliefs to help big corporations when they cannot step outside their comfort zones by themselves, nor see the wood for the trees. We need more of these interventionists generally in life.


Artist vs. machine

Is it so bad if computers are creative? There are creative tasks that can already be fulfilled by an algorithm or machine. Technically perfect music can already be written by a computer and have been used as such by musicians for decades already. Repetitive pieces, or rule-based music is their forte, but where they struggle is where there is too much complexity, or simply that a human touch is required – for example in folk music.

The french songwriter Benoît Carré worked with ‘Flow-Machines’: An artificially intelligent music programme to create the album ‘Hello World’, which was released under the artist name ‘Skygge’ earlier in 2018. Its Spotify listing explains that it is a collaboration with artists including Kiesza, Stromae and The Pirouettes amongst others, who met in the studio and ‘took control of the AI to compose the music they had in their souls’. The music is very enjoyable – and it is proof that man and machine can work together to create beautiful things – when they collaborate.  The project highlights the flip-side of the ‘fusionist’ role as discussed earlier in the article. In many ways, ‘Skygge’ draws attention the fact that sometimes it is not beneficial to be so many things at once, and it is more important to focus on your strengths.

The new careers

As new technologies develop, new design needs will begin to blossom or as yet are unheard of.

Imagine the growing need for an ‘Avatar designer’. As gaming grows from strength to strength in popula­rity and becomes an extension of film through more immersive storytelling, more celebrities will appear in them. The cross channel nature of their existence will demand some level of image control, which creates a job for a designer/marketer/PR ‘fusionist’. Augmented reality experiences are growing as a pursuit in concurrence with both the playing and watching side of eSports, so the experience for the viewer is as important as, if not potentially more important than that of the viewer. To design an experience that engages and thrills both sides is a challenging task, and one that requires a very close working relationship with technology.

If we think about the development of the human body, and the role of synthetic organs and body parts in future medicine, we could also be looking at roles for fusionists who can blend the roles of
designer, textiles expert and biologist to design symbiotic products.


How do we recruit?

A problem that may occur is that the creative forces may not always be found in the big capital cities. The world’s biggest hubs, London, New York, Hong Kong, are slowly losing their youth to a global housing crisis. High rent and house prices are pushing people out of the cities at an increasingly younger age. And the young people are the ones who tend to historically generate the creative activity, because it is a key part of what draws them to a global hub in the first place. So cities will soon be seeing a creativity drought if the wind does not change soon.

What can corporations do in the meantime? A 2017 piece by Campaign on the Future of work for creative industries recommends that employee packages need to accommodate the obstacles to living in capitals such as London, New York and Hong Kong, covering travel, rent subsidy and so on. Because the sad truth is that young people cannot afford to be in capital cities – but if you want to attract the best talent, you need to solve their problems. Or – they need to relocate to go where they are. Instead of stretching out into the commuter belt, many of the younger generations opting out of the capitals are moving to second tier cities and setting new creative wheels in motion there instead.

Unlocking the creative workplace

In order to ensure the safety of a creative future, the culture in companies needs to be nurtured, even in supposedly ‘creative’ businesses. Neil Hughston of creative startup Duke says:

“The future of creativity is less about the physical space and more about the essence of the environment, and the mentality within it. Creative workplaces of the future will need to foster a culture of excitement and supporting bravery by not selling out creatively.”

Whilst Generation Z are increasingly risk-averse when it comes to finance and employment (a study by Adecco and The Levo Institute found that 69 percent of Generation Z would prefer a stable job lacking passion to a passionate job lacking stability), freelancing is still a power tool, espe­cially for those seeking creative flexibility and variety (for all those fusionists amongst us). Many employers and recruiters believe that creating a ‘culture of freelancing’ will be the silver bullet to attracting and retaining talent.

The concept of a ‘fusionist’, or someone who has cross-functional understanding and skills, is just a development of the infamous ‘slash/slash’ career typology so negatively associated with Millennials. If we view it for the resourcefulness that it symbolises, it is a glimpse of what is to come in creative careers. It is going to be less about doing only one thing and more about relative adaptability.

Futurist Faith Popcorn agrees with the need for agility in a Guardian interview:

“You will need to have many forms of talent and work that you can provide the economy. We will all have seven or eight jobs, with the average adult working for a number of companies simultaneously rather than working for one big corporation.”


Nourishing a creative drought

There is just one small problem: There are fewer children taking creative subjects at school. Creative jobs and careers may well be in demand, but the interest in studying them has decreased.

The belief is that in many countries, the education and skills system is ‘predicated on employment models of the past rather than the workforce of the future’. Creative and technical learning has become inaccessible and is in a very precarious position.

In Denmark, the situation is similar. The Chairman of the Education Committee of Denmark’s ‘Lærer­forening’, Jeanette Sjøberg, wrote in Politiken last year that practical, artistic subjects need to be compulsory in Danish schools. She believes that prac­tically taught, craft-based subjects benefit students in the long run and set them up better for life after school. She also admits that the previous approach has been wrong:

“Several years of focus on acade­mic skills and tests does not give teachers a space to work with students’ practical knowledge and skills. We have removed virtually all practical music subjects in schooling, which further signals that book knowledge is more important than practical knowledge.”

This is supported by the work of Danish brain researcher Kjeld Fredens, who has also stated that encouraging artistic subjects in schools will help improve overall learning:

“Looking at the artistic activities, there is extremely interesting research, where one has studied art-rich and art-poor schools. The art-rich schools do better on all parameters.”

So… the future is without a doubt a very creative one, with very exciting new opportunities. But, if we do not have a generation of people who are creatively enthused, encouraged and provided for, the outlook will be very bleak indeed.