Is Data Killing Creativity?

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen is in Davos, Switzerland this week, chairing the Media, Entertainment and Information Governors Meeting at the World Economic Forum. This blog is cross-posted from the Forum Blog.

We are living in a world of “big data”; every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data that flows to and from smartphones, PCs, tablets, TVs and innumerable other connected devices. As chair of the Media, Entertainment and Information (MEI) Governors Meeting in Davos this year, I’ve been reflecting on what this may mean for our society in the future.

We know more, we do more, we’re more connected. We have real-time access to content and information we never could have imagined. And yet, I’m concerned that lost in this rising tide of data is the essence of what makes us human: Creativity. It goes far beyond the traditional world of art and music. Creativity is the essence of invention and inspiration, and it is what fuels our economy.

Indeed, global research we conducted in 2012 showed that 8 in 10 people feel that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth and nearly two-thirds of respondents feel creativity is valuable to society. But only 1 in 4 people – a strikingly low percentage – believe they are living up to their own creative potential. Respondents revealed that productivity, not creativity, is what employers currently demand.

creativity infographic

How did productivity trump creativity? Macroeconomic conditions have certainly created pressure on companies to produce results. But has more emphasis on technical skills, operational improvements and hard numbers devalued creativity in the workplace? Or does it start much earlier, in our schools, where the race to improve science, technology and math (STEM) abilities in students has overtaken time once spent on “softer” subjects? Are we stifling our children’s imagination?

In a follow-up study we conducted in the United States, nearly three-quarters of respondents said creative thinking should be “taught as a course – like math or science.” We as business leaders should advocate for this type of thinking both in our schools and our companies as we grow our next generation of employees.

Companies like ours who are in the business of content must also take responsibility for encouraging creativity. All of us in the MEI community need to encourage creativity among our young people and in our enterprises large and small. Whether it’s investing in small businesses with big ideas, entrepreneur in residence programs or educational scholarships like the Adobe Youth Voices Creativity Scholarship, we must keep creativity front and center.

We live in an extraordinary time where a treasure trove of content—data, photographs, books, music, video—can be made by and shared with the world. Today, everyone can be a creator. Everyone can share their creations and gauge the impact of that creativity whether it’s financial, cultural or societal. What a gift to us all.