The Right Brain Revolution
Over the next 100 years, the importance of creativity will trump systems thinking due to the rapidly escalating power of computers.
No, I’m not talking about an apocalyptic “Rise of the Machines,” but rather about the future ascent of people who excel in creativity, intuition, and the marshaling of original solutions, things that computers won’t be able to do for a long time. Tomorrow’s rewards will be won by creative people who contribute new ideas. Call it the Right Brain Revolution.
For the past few centuries, society has richly rewarded strong systems thinkers, logical, analytical, objective people such as computer programmers who build software, engineers who build bridges, lawyers who write contracts, and MBAs who crunch numbers. But as computers take over more of the pure systems thinking, people with only this skill set will find their importance decline. There are about 4 to 5 million engineers and computer scientists employed today in the US and few will be automated out of existence. But in the next 50 years, those that excel in creativity-- big picture thinkers, artists, inventors, designers -- will rise to the top. It could be as big a paradigm shift in labor market history as when tools made physical strength irrelevant, or assembly lines replaced the cottage industry. The illiterates of the future will not be those who cannot read and write or code, but those who cannot connect the dots and imagine a constellation.
From 1975 to 1994 only 0.5% of psychological studies concerned creativity, but now it’s a flourishing field complemented by an entire industry of self-help books on how to become more creative. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future (more than rigor, management discipline, integrity and even vision).
In the United States, the key predictive score to spot a good systems thinker-- our future leaders-- has been the SAT and IQ tests. Our universities have, for the most part, outsourced their admissions decisions to these tests. And that was probably a good thing. In the last few hundred years, systems thinking trumped all other talents. We needed to build bridges and understand complex matters. While creativity, emotional intelligence, and other talents have been important, they were relegated to second place in predicting a person’s success. But while high IQ is important, it isn’t very correlated to creativity.
That is going to change.
Over the next 30 years, we are going to see a big societal shift that will give outsized rewards to creativity. Systems thinking, while still important, will move to second-fiddle in the talent hierarchy.
And here’s why...
Computers are becoming better and better systems thinkers every day. Besides beating us at chess and at Jeopardy, computers will soon be able to provide important functions such as medical diagnoses and designing structures. Every day computers are taking over more systems tasks once done by humans. The number of computer chip designers, for example, has stagnated due to powerful software programs that replace the work once done by logic designers and draftsmen.
The legal profession is already feeling the effects. There are some aspects of legal work that will always need the personal touch and top lawyers will always make the big bucks, but today many young lawyers are struggling to pay back their student loans.
It cost $2.2 million for a platoon of lawyers and legal assistants to examine six million documents in a 1978 Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against CBS. In a recent case, Blackstone Discovery of Palo Alto, Calif., an e-discovery and litigation support firm, helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000. [see article on this in the NY Times]
Those contemplating becoming lawyers will want to pick a concentration where they can uniquely excel or one which will expect reduced competition from a computer. A good specialty to pick is one that is always changing and makes no logical sense – like international tax -- no human or computer will ever be able to figure that one out. But no one should feel overly secure. Systems thinking will attack any area of perceived inefficiency with automation and likely deliver an automated solution over time.
So what to do?
In a world where you need to be awesome or be outsourced, you should plan on a career where you can be awesome.
Education and parenting should aim to provide the conventional skills (math, problem solving, and test taking skills) while also encouraging creative, out-of-the-box type thinking. Computers are no match for the average fourth-grader when it comes to creativity.
Instead of making a resolution to learn how to code in 2013, you might make a resolution to learn how to draw. After a few months of lessons you might begin to observe the world differently seeing details, light and shadows, shapes, proportions, perspective and negative space.
Instead of encouraging your child to major in engineering, you might encourage her to study philosophy, ask smart unsettling questions and practice making unusual and unexpected mental associations.
Albert Einstein said; “I have no special gift. I am only passionately curious.”