Do Humans Still Matter?
In light of the never ending demand for greater efficiencies and cost cutting, one has to ask a fundamental, if painful, question: what is the value of human beings— and, in particular, American human beings—in our new economy?
This was explored to considerable extent in Daniel Pink's brilliant book, A Whole New Mind. Pink notes what is becoming increasingly obvious: many jobs formerly done by Americans can now be done cheaper and faster by machines or labor outsourced overseas to low-wage workers.
Simply put, our work is becoming commoditized. It’s happening not just in manufacturing, but also in services. Even the work of lawyers, accountants and software engineers is now being sent overseas, and it looks like this trend is not going to change anytime soon, if ever.
Cultural observers like Martin Ford paint an even bleaker picture. In The Lights at the End of the Tunnel, he argues that all process-driven work will eventually be mechanized, further devaluing the human being as an economic force.
So what can people bring to the party? Where is their economic future?
The answer lies in creativity, for it's the one thing that humans can still do that machine's can't.
Funny, since "creative types" were for so long viewed as marginal figures in our economic life. They might be interesting or eccentric, but they certainly weren’t fueling America’s economic engine.
Now creativity is being recognized as having mission-critical value. In an IBM poll of 1500 CEOs, creativity was identified as the "No.1 leadership competency" of the future. Jason Wingard, Vice Dean of Executive Education at the Wharton School, adds that the requirement necessary for success in our new environment is no loger "rigor, vision, integrity or management discipline...now it's all about creativity."
This is what Pink means when he says that we need a "a whole new mind."
As our left-brain capacities become more commoditized, our right-brain capacities are where the future lies.
It’s those with "supercharged right-brains" who will lead us out of our current predicament. These are people who, rather than thinking sequentially, step-by-step and word-by-word, are able to absorb and synthesize a great deal of information all at once.
You can think of them as big picture thinkers who have developed a number of "senses" which will enable them to thrive in our new economic environment.
Among those are a sense of design, a sense of storytelling and a sense of "symphony," i.e., the ability to see connections between seemingly diverse pieces of information or disciplines and to connect apparently unconnected elements to create something new.
The amazing success of Apple Computer is just one illustration of how creativity and design can enable a company to thrive, even in the toughest economy.
Moreover, studies already show that creative workers enjoy higher pay than their non-creative counterparts. In Deloitte’s 2009 Shift Index, the consulting firm concluded that "the types of talent that make up the workforce in creative cities are valued increasingly highly."
Better yet, creativity can be learned, and it can be taught.
As someone who has spent his entire career as a professional creative, I know that creativity is as much an acquired skill as it is an inborn talent. With practice, discipline and the right training, anyone can be as creative as he or she wants.
So let me leave you with a prediction: as our economic lives become increasingly volatile, more and more of us, in every kind of company and at every level, will be developing our creative talents and our creative skills.
After all, it's only human.