Why creativity is the most important soft skill companies look for right now

AI and machine learning are taking over, automating more and more tasks. With this technology in place, machines are producing faster and more accurate results for businesses than ever before.

As the technology evolves we’ll no longer need to deal with soul-sucking spreadsheets, hours of searching for just the right cat photo or combing through and compiling heaps of user data.

And that’s just the beginning. In an interview with 60 Minutes, Venture capitalist and technology writer Kai Fu Lee shared his prediction that AI will replace 40 percent of today’s jobs in the next 15 years. Which, he believes, doesn’t have to be bad news:

“We will end up with the inevitable outcome that large numbers of routine jobs will be eliminated and large numbers of empathetic jobs will be created.”

And this makes sense. As our tech takes over more manual tasks, it also frees up our time to spend on tasks that require human imagination and understanding.

Linkedin recently undertook a study of hundreds of thousands of job postings to find out what companies are looking for most. According to their results, the number one soft skill companies want in 2019 is creativity.

A global study by Adobe found that businesses which invest in creativity experience:

  • Increased employee productivity (78 percent)
  • Have satisfied customers (80 percent) and produce a better customer experience (78 percent)
  • Foster innovation (83 percent) and are financially successful (73 percent)

Could tech replace human creativity?

In an age when empathy and creativity are becoming the most important skills companies are looking for,  we’ve even advanced to a point where tech can produce hit songs, works of art and write credible articles.

As our technology gets smarter, will we also start to see creative professions be replaced? Will the artists, designers, musicians, and writers of the world be safe?

At the helm of a company which is bringing tech to the creative world, we spoke with Paul Robson, President of Adobe EMEA. In his view, algorithms will never ever replace the human mind:

“The fusing of technology and the human process is helping us create better products. But nothing will take away that human ability to understand the emotive connection; the link between a brand and the feeling you get when you smell something that reminds you of your childhood, hear a song you listened to as a teenager, feel the condensation on the side of a coke bottle or see a glass of wine or cold beer at the end of a long day.”

Studies show that, as tech helps us optimize customer satisfaction, the ability to create an emotional connection with consumers will actually be a company’s main competitive differentiator.

This means the more time we have to spend on tasks that require human empathy, the faster we’ll bring our companies forward. According to Robson:

“A lot of creative professionals’ time is now spent on researching, filing, pulling together different assets, collating and looking at the data. By automating these processes, technology is really unlocking and liberating the human mind, allowing us to focus more on the creative process.”

A study by Pfeiffer Consulting found that the majority of creatives aren’t worried, in fact over half were interested in the new opportunities AI and machine learning could bring.

Personalization is key

Tech-driven innovations are actually speeding up the need for human creativity. AI, machine learning and big data are now enabling brands to dig deeper into their audiences’ preferences and behaviors, allowing them to provide content which is personalized for each individual, rather than each customer segment.

Today 70 percent of creatives and marketers believe personalizing content and designs across the customer journey is important, but just 28 percent think their organization is excelling at this.

If you think about Netflix, content is being consumed through recommendations. And that recommendation engine is constantly being refined based on what you’re watching, how long you watch it, how often you watch it and even what time of the day you watch certain types of shows. So it constantly refines the way you interact with it, with the outcome being that the experience is better every time.

In fact, after using historical customer data to select it’s hit original show House of Cards, the company produced different trailers for the show that would fit different consumer interests. Depending on whether the viewer had watched more Kevin Spacey films, films directed by David Fincher or shows that focused on a strong female lead, they were shown a different trailer.

Instead of spending time creating based on intuition, creatives at Netflix were able to leverage the data to focus their talents on producing trailers that highlighted the elements consumers actually wanted to see.

A global study by SoDA and Forrester found that 56 percent of business leaders and agencies agreed, “AI technology will significantly impact the way we plan for and design customer interactions.”

While this brings great opportunities, it also comes with the inevitable need for more content. Companies now need more personalized content at an accelerated rate. This has created an explosion in demand for creatives who know how to leverage data to create more personalized customer experiences.

Research has proven that almost 2 in 3 respondents (65 percent) think good design is more important now than it was five years ago. And almost half (45 percent) of consumers say that in the past year, they’ve paid more for a well-designed product or service.

And the competition is getting more fierce than ever.

“The bar you set for your customer experiences isn’t necessarily one bank vs another or airline vs airline. It’s the best digital experience you’ve had in the past. Organizations are realizing we need to go deeper and be more personal because consumer expectations are so much higher. Organizations that aren’t embracing that quickly are moving far behind those that are,” Robson explained.

Unlocking creativity across the organization

Creativity isn’t something that only a few are born with; everyone has their own creative spark. Yet organizations continue to box people into static job roles which designate who can and should use their creativity in the workplace. Robson believes you need to consider a different approach:

“We are believers that everyone has a story to tell which means we all possess creativity skillsets. As business leaders and organizations, we should we need to think of people as ‘pro-creators’ and co-creators. Unlocking the ability for everyone in your team to help create, whether that’s through technology or collaborative projects, can exponentially accelerate innovation.”

There are a number of ways you can start fostering creativity within your organization:

  • Jam sessions

Collaboration is proven to improve creative thinking. Company-wide jam sessions bring together creatives with sales, IT and customer service professionals to work on a creative project together. What you often find is that this diverse mix of perspectives often results in the most out of the box and innovative ideas. Gmail and Adsense are two products born out of Google’s own version, 20 percent time. Collaborative cloud-based tech tools can aid this process giving everyone access to a shared workspace.

  • Design thinking

Design thinking is a process that has helped teams globally channel their creativity to solve customers’ problems. It requires you to use empathy to come up with creative solutions and experimentation to test and refine those ideas into viable products and services.

Technology allows us to take design theories and test them in reality by automatically tracking and recording data and benchmarking success. Instead of one team at one time benefiting from these learnings, this allows us to integrate learnings into the company’s DNA.

  • Integrate creativity into front line customer jobs

Every employee, especially those who interact most with your customers, should be encouraged to use their creativity. A more diverse creative workforce brings broader perspectives, better problem-solving, and new opportunities for innovation, ultimately leading to better customer experiences.By centralizing templates and brand assets we can decentralize the creative process across the organization, while still staying on brand.

What’s next?

According to Robson, the next step in the integration of tech and creativity will be making it more accessible and mobile.

“The creative spark of genius doesn’t happen when you’re sitting at a computer. It happens when you’re out and about using a stylus.”

Being able to design and create on any device will enable us to be creative whenever and wherever inspiration strikes.

Voice controlled menus are also helping to unlock the learning process. If you can reduce the amount of time it takes to learn how to use the technology, you can lower the learning curve.

In the age of AI, we’re now moving towards an era in which human creativity will become a company’s biggest asset and competitive advantage. Robson agreed:

“We have this mindset around art and science that it’s either one or the other. It’s not one or the other, it’s about how the two come together to create better outcomes. Being data-driven shouldn’t inhibit creativity, it should help us unlock and enhance it.”