Put a variety of Lego block pieces, empty cereal boxes, paper, string, and scissors in front of a child. A while later, watch them transform these materials into an amazing futuristic city. Their imaginations come alive in the bustling roadways filled with cool Avengers-like vehicles, modern skyscrapers with their own rooftop helipad and elevated mobility aircraft, and tall cranes busily constructing new high-rise buildings. Take an even closer at the street level and be delighted by the detail creations of landscaped parks, a lake with people on kayaks, and people enjoying a picnic or a stroll in the park.

As children our creative minds are unleashed through activities like this that foster exploration and play. In many ways, to be a kid again may be just what we all need to rediscover our creative capabilities, which will be a core skill for the future.

What is creativity?

When you hear the word “Creativity” what is top of mind for you? The immediate thought may be associated with artistic abilities and visual arts. Creativity is broader than that. Look at this quote which provides a simple explanation of creativity:

Creativity is the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others. 

Robert E. Franken, author of Human Motivation.

Skills for the future

“Creativity, originality and initiative” is a Top 10 Skill for the future, according to a Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum. Like other problem-solving type of skills such as “Critical thinking and analysis”, which leads the list, creativity is a capability that employers believe will grow in prominence in the next five years.

Accelerated adoption of new technologies will mean that in-demand skills across jobs will change over time. In fact, the Forum’s report indicates that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. Further, a staggering estimate of 85 million jobs will be displaced, while up to 97 million jobs in digital world will emerge.

While automation and digital technologies will change some of the tasks we do, creativity is an innate characteristic of humans which is hard to replace.

Creativity in the workplace

Creativity is about solving problems. We solve problems of different levels of complexity in our work each day. Yet, we may not actively develop it as a capability. A Gallup study of more than 16,500 employees in the highlighted three factors that often underpin creativity in the workplace but are often all too rare. These are the expectations to be creative at work, time to be creative, and the freedom to take the risks necessary to be creative.

In the workplace, employers can give their teams more “space” on how they may tackle a problem. This may mean moving away from a template style approach to allow greater experimentation and new ways to approach a problem. Creativity needs to be encouraged and rewarded. Next time there is an opportunity, encourage team members to speak up and start a dialogue among colleagues to ask, “What if we try a new approach here?” or “How might we solve this customer need differently?”

How are you developing your skills for the future?

Whether your workplace is a hive of creativity or not, there are practical ways for you to actively nurture your individual creative capabilities. Try these suggestions:

Prioritize creativity as a goal. Set goals around reskilling and learning new capabilities that nurture your creativity as part of your personal development. Think of this as your creativity fitness plan to exercise your imagination and problem solving “muscles”. Consider including art and other “creative” activities. Commit to it by putting time on your calendar to do this.

Let your mind wander. When you are stuck on a problem, just let your mind drift or daydream. This is a recommendation from psychology researchers at the Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity Lab at Penn State University. Another useful strategy is to think about a past experience with as much detail as possible to boost the number of ideas you might on a creative thinking task. Why? Research has found that creativity requires cognitive effort and general creative thinking as a dynamic interplay between the brain’s memory and control systems.

Activate your curiosity. Look for examples of what and how others did to solve problems that you are working on. Read extensively to learn new ideas and broaden your perspectives and general knowledge. Consider learnings from businesses and industries that do not directly correlate with yours and think about how these may be adapted to your situation.

So, make time to step away from the laptop to do creative. Not only can it be fun, but also it can be a great stress reliever. And, best of all, it is your chance to enjoy being a kid again.