The word can conjure up an image of a painter leaning into an easel or a potter shaping clay, but creativity isn’t only about design and art and beauty. It’s also about using new ways of thinking and structuring something. It’s putting the pieces together to get a better outcome. In practice, it's a young person seeing a problem in her own life or community, having the conviction that things can be better, and finding a way to make it happen.
Creativity matters as a life skill at any age and in every industry because it's fundamental to navigating the shifts inherent in our modern world and the unknowns of the future of work. Just as creativity isn't exclusive to painters or sculptors, it’s also not only about technology. In terms of employment, who wants to hire uncreative people for a business, school, or non-profit? Being creative or entrepreneurial isn't just for founders and CEOs. In the World Economic Forum's (WEF's) list of Top 10 Skills, from the Future of Jobs report, creativity jumped from the number 10 spot in 2015 to being predicted as the third most important skill for 2020.
Neither social challenges nor life skills exist in a vacuum, and the latter should be cultivated as complementary and inter-dependent. This is why IYF's Passport to Success® curriculum and training—translated and adapted over more than a decade—emphasizes a combination of 10 key skills. Creativity matters for the way it is inextricably linked to these and other facets of personal well-being and professional success:
- Creativity + complex problem-solving: Complex problem-solving requires collecting and understanding information and making decisions while dynamics are shifting—clearly critical in the context of the fourth industrial revolution's unprecedented rate of change. The WEF predicts this skill will remain in the top spot in 2020, as it was in 2015. Creativity is a necessary complement because it helps a person come up with novel approaches and flexible solutions that can adapt over time. Looking beyond the individual, creativity in problem-solving is also valuable at the team level, and in the workplace it stems from company practices that promote inclusion and advancing the diversity of ideas and experiences.
- Creativity + resilience: It’s hard to be resilient without creativity. To persist in the face of obstacles and come out stronger, you have to have the creativity to figure your way out and the patience to stick with it during adversity and trauma. You have to have the creativity and frame of mind—what has been called the growth mindset—to accept challenges, obstacles, and failure as opportunities to learn, change, and advance. It’s knowing you can solve your problems and that so much can change from day to day. The resilience theme has taken over, but sometimes it’s a facile word people throw around. At a personal level, it’s really about confidence, creativity, patience, persistence, and optimism. Consider a young person like Rudo, a young entrepreneur who participated in the Zimbabwe:Works initiative and heads a small business in a cashless economy. "I soldier on," she says, as she finds ways to navigate uncertainty.
- Creativity + empathy: These two combine as essential elements for design thinking, which is the evolution of thinking about problem-solving. This used to be called a community analysis. I was taught to do these as a Peace Corps volunteer 46 years ago, where we got community members involved in solving their own problems. It was also essential to realize that, even in miserable living conditions, there were assets to identify—and a lot of the assets are people. This was developed by the Catholic Church in Brazil but had many elements of design thinking, well before we ever used these two words together!
- Creativity + determination: When you're determined, you’re not looking for an immediate solution or a one-shot deal. "In a world where the external environment is changing so fast, young people need to be passionate about the problem rather than get fixated on a solution," says Ashok Regmi, IYF's Director of Social Innovation. "No matter what kind of work you’re doing, if you focus on the problem itself, you’ll always seek out new ways to solve it and to look at it from a different perspective." Social entrepreneurs such as the 1,700 innovators who call themselves YouthActionNet® fellows embody what is possible when a young person conceives of a new way of doing things and perseveres to see that vision come to life. In England, 2015 Laureate Global Fellow Luke Rodgers journeyed from foster care statistic to being a champion of systems change. Across the world, in Australia, 2017 Laureate Global Fellow Melanie Tran founded AbilityMate, which uses 3-D printing to create technology solutions for people with disabilities. Youth-led social change is a marriage of creativity and determination fueled by passion.
All life skills are valuable for the way they prepare young people to fulfill their potential. In an increasingly unpredictable world of work overrun by prognostications, fostering young people's creativity carries an increasing value across countries and industries.