The future of creativity and why we need to evolve its definition

By Jye Smith

Posted on: 08-26-2020

Conceptually, creativity can seem both abstract and specific. It’s abstract in the sense of pure imagination – ideas that are unique to each of us, both in what we create and what we perceive from others. Conversely, it’s specific in the sense of a highly specialised artistic output.

But today, what defines creativity is accelerating before our eyes, and how we perceive creativity needs to evolve.

On an individual level, “creative” is often misinterpreted or incorrectly defined based on someone’s personality or job function. On an organisational level, it’s an attribute leaders throw around as part of cultural beliefs and values, yet it is often more idealistic and not acted on in day-to-day work.

Adobe CQ (creativity quotient) is a new test to help team leaders evaluate and understand their skills and abilities to drive creativity within their teams and organisations. It was built on the understanding that for organisations to fulfil their potential, they will first need to recognise visionary creative leadership.

Yet, while creativity is a skill we intuitively believe to be important, the inherent difficulty in defining it makes it challenging for organisations to grapple with.

Adobe CQ provides the framework to recognise what our creative “visionaries” may see, whilst also providing guidance on how they define their own creativity.

The evolution of creativity

When co-author Anders Sörman-Nilsson and I were building Adobe CQ, we first considered the broadest context: How has creativity evolved within society? This evolutionary process also provides a framework for the levels of understanding of creativity:

Level 1: Mastery of artistic tools to express or create emotional responses.

Creativity is most often misrepresented or misunderstood to be obvious outputs – painting, poetry, photography – the tangible things that result from creativity.

Level 2: A mindset that allows expression of new ideas across many areas.

Looking a fraction deeper at something like dancing or cooking, these art forms become just as recognisable as creative pursuits. Even newer forms of artistic expression – such as graffiti and hip hop – are examples of mindset shifts around what art is and allows for new expressions of ideas.

Level 3: Outside-the-box thinking and processes to discover non-obvious solutions.

Too often ideas from “outside the box” that deliver non-obvious solutions aren’t taken seriously and are quickly stifled – either consciously or subconsciously – as being too controversial for a business environment. Asking someone to think outside the box isn’t overly helpful as a general direction, but refocusing this concept to seek insight-led ideas that create an unexpected relationship between concepts, actions, or solutions can be a more specific use of this concept.

This is the first real point where we start to think about creativity as more of a way of thinking rather than an output. We start to better recognise the need for every professional, whether they be an accountant, engineer, or designer, to learn creative skills like critical thinking and collaboration.

Level 4: A manifestation of a self-actualised human condition.

If it sounds like a line from The Matrix, well, that’s kind of what we’re talking about – transcending. By breaking down the barrier between work and creativity, we can see they’re one and the same. This is the point where technology is used as an extension of ourselves, enabling our creativity by automating much of the process-driven mundane work and allowing us to focus on the human-led skills. An example: The automation of data management and visualisation, allowing us to draw insights from the data.

These levels reflect the role creativity has played within our culture and provides a framework for enterprise team leaders to consider where their business might sit. As the levels build, creativity, and our depth of understanding of creativity, should also build. This is where we are able to shift our thinking from creativity as an output to creative intelligence as a critical input across business.

This mindset shift empowers leaders to explore new ways of working, unlock deeper customer insights, deliver more engaging experiences, and uncover new revenue streams. Ultimately, creativity in enterprise is a focus on progress, requiring creative leadership for continued growth.

Creativity has undoubtedly evolved. Has your leadership? Take the Adobe CQ test.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Creativity, Creative Cloud, APAC