The future of work will require more than a familiarity with virtual reality, big data, artificial intelligence and robotics.  The best algorithm is dependent on really great inputs - and great inputs originate from people with a heightened creative capacity.  As Shelly Palmer, a marketing and technology advisor -as well as musician-  noted in a 2017 interview with Price Waterhouse Coopers, "to get the most out of an algorithm you must ask the right questions."  Framing great questions starts with curiosity, the foundation of all creativity.  In fact, in order to leverage and optimize all the technology platforms we will have available, we must take a few steps back and work on our soft skills (a term I am not crazy about, but it's the phrase we have available for the moment).  It turns out that soft skills- e.g., critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and teamwork - are not particularly touchy feely at all; and they will be the most critical resource that we develop.  

But how to do this?  Look no further than to a great grounding and foundation in the arts.  I shared the following five ways the arts are critical to the future of work in a talk to the Tennessee Arts Commission.

1. Curiosity Is A Currency

Arts training and education is fundamentally about cultivating your ability to see- whether that is the negative space one learns to see when drawing, or the ability a dancer has to watch a new choregraphy and incorporate the movement into her/his body with meaning and technique.  The bedrock of critical thinking is curiosity: the ability to ask, frame and re-frame questions.  Parts of this requires humility and a self-awareness about what one does not know.  I've written before about the great ways Warren Berger has explained question framing in his book A More Beautiful QuestionCuriosity starts with your ability to observe and listen to people. Consequently, your emotional intelligence ramps up. 

2. Think In The Abstract

Language is code, and all art forms expose you to a new language with a new set of rules and vocabulary.  When musicians learn music theory, they are learning code.  When dancers learn choreography they are learning to think in patterns.  Painters such as Joan Miro or Mark Rothko weren't painting what was materially in front of them, but instead a representation of people, or of a setting sun, or of a hunting scene.  Similarly, strategy is not about seeing what is right in front of you, but anticipating what is around the corner, and in the interstices of the data.  The ability to abstract from the obvious is critical thinking to the hilt.

3. Cultural Fluency

Because artists find their inspiration from just about everywhere, they become primed at a very early stage of their development to explore people, geographies and paradigms that are completely different from their own norms. This cultural fluency means that they are very open to thought diversity and forming tribes to catalyze and complete work. The future of work wil require us to span the boundaries of our own deep specializations.

4. The Portfolio Model

Due to artists' foundation in curiosity, abstract thinking and cultural fluency, they stray away from priding themselves only on deep specialization.  They also value working on project bases, and curating their work with others.  Developing a portfolio of work means that you have a sense of context, strive to evolve your work and are much more focused on process rather than a singular solution.

5. Visionary Leaders... Visualize!

Finally, the future of work depends on leaders with vision.   To be an artist you must have audacious vision, because your work requires a unique point of view.  In a world where it is increasingly easy to copy-paste it will become more important to be distinctive in your approach. This is a soft skill that isn't taught in traditional business school- it is however, valued, emphasized and required in the arts and design.  

So what might we conclude from this?  First, embrace all that is artistic in you and build your own creative capacity. And second, start now to create a world of work that invites in unusual suspects and untraditional training to add value to whatever sector your business is in.  The sustainable future of your business depends on it.

Published on: Jun 25, 2018