Is R2-D2 about to replace you at work? And the creative solution.

Posted on Mar 23, 2015
Is R2-D2 about to replace you at work?  And the creative solution.

Perhaps I have very suspicious friends and colleagues but recently I’ve been having more and more conversations about how our future is going to be dominated by artificial intelligence. In particular, the piece that caught my eye was a conclusion from a 2013 study that looked into the number of jobs at risk of being replaced by computers or robots in the not too distant future. The University of Oxford study predicts that 47% of the US labour market is at risk of being replaced by computerisation in the next decade or two. There’s even a handy interactive tool you can use to see how safe your sector is.

Fortunately there are a few areas where we’re not redundant, yet. In particular, those jobs requiring social intelligence, persuasion, negotiation or most interestingly for me creativity.


We are all creative

There was a time when creativity was seen as the preserve as the few. In his latest book Kevin Ashton (who coined the term “internet of things”) writes that “the Renaissance belief that creating is reserved for genius survived through the Enlightenment of the 17th century, the Romanticism of the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that the alternative position — that everyone is capable of creation — first emerged”.

Most of us agree that we are all creative as children. Sir Ken Robinson gives a lovely anecdote in one of his TED talks:

I heard a great story recently — I love telling it — of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six, and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this girl hardly ever paid attention, and in this drawing lesson, she did. The teacher was fascinated.

She went over to her, and she said, “What are you drawing?”

And the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.”

And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.”

And the girl said, “They will, in a minute.”

But we are not all Steve Jobs

Tellingly, the title of that particular Ken Robinson TED talk was “How schools kill creativity”. Education systems around the world aren’t geared up to nurture creativity. Similarly, it is clear that we are not all equally creative or confident in our creative abilities – a quick search in the books department on Amazon for ‘creativity’ gives over 18,000 titles offering guidance on how to unlock creativity.

According to psychologist Karl Ducker the starting point to creativity is asking one of two questions: “Why doesn’t it work?” or “What should I change to make it work?”. Questions that Steve Jobs asked relentlessly and was very skilled at answering.

Turning ideas into results

In other words, with the right starting point we can all be creative. We need to start with the right questions – like Steve Jobs. That’s why we have specialist moderators to help run creative workshops for our clients. Asking the right questions to encourage the right problem solving mindset.

It doesn’t stop there though. Creativity isn’t just about having the idea. It’s also about bringing that idea to life. To quote Kevin Aston again “Many people have ideas; few take the steps to make the thing they imagine. One of the best examples is the aeroplane. The brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright were not the first people to have the idea of building a flying machine, nor were they the first people to begin building one, but they were the first people to fly.” That is another reason clients ask us to run workshops. Not only do they help to generate the ideas, the right people are in the room and engaged in the process to help bring the ideas to life.

So maybe robots are going to make up a large proportion of the workforce within my lifetime. However, hope lies in our creative capabilities. Perhaps the answer is to use our creative thinking to find the best way of working with robots.