You have 2 years to get this right

You have 2 years to get this right - image for article by Greg Alder

What are you good at? What skills do you possess that you feel help you in business? Take a moment to write them down. Write down at least half a dozen.

Now, once you have your list, compare it with the one here:

1. Complex problem solving
2. Critical thinking
3. Creativity
4. People management
5. Co-ordinating with others
6. Emotional intelligence
7. Judgement and decision making
8. Service orientation
9. Negotiation
10. Cognitive flexibility

How many of your skills are listed above? If only one or two of your skills are on this list, you have a problem. Not now, but in two years’ time.

The list above is of the top 10 skills you’ll need in 2020. The list is from the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report. The skills are listed in descending order of importance.

Five years ago, this list looked slightly different. The biggest mover in five years has been Creativity – up from number 10 to number 3.

Is Creativity on your own list of skills. If it isn’t, it needs to be. Here’s why. Creativity is the only skill on this list capable of improving most if not all of the other skills listed here.

Solve complex problems creatively

Creativity enhances your ability to solve complex problems. The best creative thinking techniques are simple. In turn, they reduce complex problems to a logical sequence of simple ones and improve your ability to solve each one, beautifully, quickly and simply.

An example: A business’s revenue might be falling for a number of reasons, both internal and external. Say one of these factors is the escalating cost of traditional distribution. So, a creative thinking session focuses solely on ways to disrupt the old distribution model.

Other contributors to falling revenue are the subject of separate creative sessions.

Each solution becomes a project, with a passionate project a leader, and an engaged project team (there are techniques for identifying the best people for these roles). The complex problem is now a series of manageable programs.

Accelerate critical thinking

One of the key benefits of creative thinking techniques is to accelerate idea generation. Armed with an appropriate associational thinking tool, a small group will generate a hundred ideas in an hour.

More important for critical thinking, the techniques force users to think outside their (often prejudiced) areas of expertise and bypass their own internal censors. The ideas that result will be original, unexpected and objective.

Better manage your people

Employee experience is the big HR trend for 2018. Forbes identifies employee experience as ‘an ecosystem that integrates three core dimensions: engagement, culture and performance management’.

Research shows that employees whose creativity is encouraged and valued are more engaged, happier, less likely to take sick leave and are more productive. The most creatively fertile companies dominate annual Best Employer lists.

Creative thinking techniques are used by creative HR leaders to generate new, fresh ideas to improve the work environment.

Co-ordinate with others as never before

Creativity is a collaboration of minds. Every great invention of the past 200 years is the result of collaboration (Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson, 2010).

Group creative thinking never fails to engender respect for others. Often, the best ideas come from people whose area of expertise lies outside the immediate environment of the task at hand. Creative thinking is a team building exercise with the side benefit of finding solutions and opportunities with ease and speed.

Boost emotional intelligence

One of the most stubborn blockers of emotional intelligence is our own inability to recognise our preconceptions and prejudices. If we believe we’re expert in our chosen field, we won’t allow ourselves to ask the naïve questions that might solve an unsolved problem. And we won’t recognise the value of a solution from someone we don’t recognise as our peer.

The best creative thinking tools knock down the walls that restrict our thinking.

Improve judgement and decision making

When decisions are sometimes made, the choice is often between two options that we have identified. By asking What if?, creativity will reveal options we mightn’t have considered. These options might come from unrelated industries, from the modus operandi of heroes and villains and even from drinking games of surrealist artists. Yes, in this context, drinking can improve judgement.

Enhance service orientation

By making service delivery the focus of idea generation sessions (and by involving people as diverse as delivery drivers, warehouse staff, call centre agents and app designers), creative thinking techniques will deliver ideas with the potential to dramatically improve service delivery.

With improved service, comes improved customer satisfaction, greater efficiency, profitability, and brand reputation.

Negotiate more intelligently

The best negotiators operate on the theory of reciprocity – I do something for you, you feel obliged to do something for me. Negotiations often fail because the concessions demanded by the other party aren’t feasible.

Creativity is the tool to come up with offers or concessions that aren’t immediately obvious. Because creative thinking techniques have been designed for problem solving (and negotiation stalemates are problems to be solved), they work perfectly to help find an unexpected and mutually agreeable solution.

Gain cognitive flexibility

This is the skill that benefits most from creativity. Our mind is capable of performing many tasks simultaneously, connecting seemingly unconnected pieces of knowledge and switching between tasks.

The problem is that our ability to think creatively has been stolen from us. Our schooling prioritised numeracy and literacy over creative expression. At 6, virtually every one of us believes we’re creative. At 25, only 5% of us do.

The good news is that our creativity might have been subdued, but it is easily reignited. Our brains soon think creatively habitually. We gain mental agility and solve problems or see opportunities faster and faster.

Your 2 years start now

If the skills above are the ones the World Economic Forum believes you’ll need in two years, then developing or honing them now seems like a smart thing to do.

By focusing on developing your (and your organisation’s) creativity, you can then apply this to improving the other skills on this list.

Practice makes perfect. Now is the perfect time to start practising.

Read more about creative thinking here.

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