Why We Have a Creative Skills Gap

One reason why I wrote “Fostering Creativity in Self and the Organization” and “Designing Creative High Power Teams and Organizations” is that we are suffering from a Creative Skills Gap.

What is it and why do have it?


The Context
Attaining competitive advantage requires that an organization pursue the low cost producer position in a market or focus on differentiation by offering a superior value proposition to the customer. Most successful firms today focus on the latter. They offer high value products at above average prices, which their clients are willing to pay. Apple’s iPhone is great example of this strategy.

Value can be bundled into a product or service in a number of ways including but not limited to quality, aesthetics, functionality, and flexibility. Attaining these goals demands more from a an organization’s talent.  It demands higher levels of creative expression.

Herein lies the problem.

The Problem
The problem is that we are not giving young people enough opportunities to exercise their creative abilities while at university, nor are we training them to master their creative skills once they enter places of employment.

In short, there is a skills gap…

The Traditional Skills Gap is usually framed as the inability of firms to fill vacant positions despite high unemployment in the economy.  It often pertains to industries such as IT or aerospace that rely heavily on a knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The Creative Skills Gap is something altogether different:

“The Creative Skills Gap is the gap between the creative skills of a workforce and the need to produce innovative new products and services on a continuous basis.”

There are 5 principle reasons why we have a Creative Skills Gap (TM).

1. Lack of Definition
Most leaders and managers have no idea of what creative expression is and therefore do not know how to encourage it.  This is a huge problem.  Many assume creativity is “brainstorming.”  It is not!  Creativity comes in many forms, which should be recognized.  In my books, I focus on improvising, designing, experimenting (or tinkering) and developing aesthetic awareness.  This list is by no means exhaustive.

2. Lack of Preparation
Most people are afraid to create (or admit to their own creative expression). The main reason is a fear of judgment, both by themselves and by others. A majority of leaders and managers do not understand the psychological obstacles most people have regarding their creative abilities. Indeed, they may even suffer from the same fears. Consequently they have no plan for for dealing with this issue. It is important to address this problem head on.

Another issue is that universities also do not offer enough opportunities, esp. business schools, for students to exercise their creativity. In my opinion, creativity, in all its forms, should be taught in school. We also need to structure more classes with methods driven by guided discovery, problem-solving and design.  For example, why should students learn physics by reading about the discoveries of the great thinkers?  They should be designing their own experiments to test theories of universe.  We should help them to discover what is known rather than spoon feed it to them.

In short, we need to provide greater opportunities for students to exercise their creative muscles, learn by tinkering, and engage in creative behaviors.

3. Poor or Mixed Messages
Most organizations send mixed messages to their employees. Organizations use buzzwords like “innovation” and “cutting edge” yet have no idea what this entails. True innovation may be disruptive. There is thus a disconnect between “espoused theory” and “theory in practice.” What they say and what they do are in conflict. Disruptive innovation requires taking risks and the culture needs to support it.

4. Poor Incentives
Many leaders and managers invite innovation yet trap employees in systems that do not support risk taking or action learning. Annual reviews coupled to financial incentives often do recognize creative behaviors (not surprising, since many managers do not know what it is.  See #1).  They may even be penalized for taking risks! Risk taking will result in a higher rate of failures along with the successes and learning that takes place. Very conservative organizations tend to discourage this type of behavior.

5. Poor Vision
Finally, most leaders and managers have no idea of what a truly creative organization looks like. I call these organizations Poietic Organizations. What are their characteristics? What are their goals? How do they transform themselves over time?  How are employees treated? What do their incentive systems look like?

You can’t make progress toward something you can’t see or imagine.

The Creative Skills Gap is a real problem for most organizations.  Responsibility for improving the situation and closing the gap rests both with universities and our organizations.

Copyright Eric W. Stein. 2014. All rights reserved.  The Creative Skills Gap (TM) is a trademark of Eric W. Stein.

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5 Critical Success Factors for Individual and Organization Success: IDEAS

In my books, “Fostering Creativity in Self and the Organization” and “Designing Creative Power Teams and Organizations,” I argue that individuals and organizations need to focus on 5 critical success factors to remain innovative and competitive: improvisational proficiency, design thinking, experimentation, aesthetic awareness and leveraging strengths. In short: IDEAS.

1. Improvisation

Improvisation is the ability to make effective decisions in new and complex situations using current information and appropriate routines.  Since there are no rule-books in this complex world, we must become adapt as improvisers by leveraging our deep knowledge. In the immortal words of jazz bassist Charles Mingus, “You can’t improvise on nothing; you got to improvise on something.”  Only those who have mastered their craft can improvise. The art of real-time decision-making; i.e., improvisation, is a key life and organizational skill.

2. Design Thinking

Designing is the ability to construct an object or process that meets the requirements of a particular user.  Design is a primary differentiator in a crowded marketplace. Think Apple. Organizations need great designers in addition to great leaders, managers and knowledge workers in order to thrive. Through good design, we breath new life into existing products and services to remain competitive.

3. Experimentation

Experimentation is the ability to decide between two competing goals or viewpoints by designing a process that yields sufficient information to rank each choice. Experimentation ranges from tinkering (watch children!) to a highly structured process known as an experiment. We constantly tinker in everyday life in order to learn.  Great companies like Google encourage tinkering and experimentation and pharmaceutical companies depend on it for product development.  Whether you tinker or design formal experiments, it is potent form of learning.

4. Aesthetic Awareness

Aesthetic awareness is the ability to discriminate between sensory inputs, recognize the feelings and thoughts invoked, and to rank the object in terms of beauty. Beauty presents itself in many forms. To understand aesthetics, we need to really see and connect to what is around us. While many people do this in museums, perceptual awareness is a key life and organizational skill. When was the last time you bought a product or service because it was beautiful?  Does your organization make beautiful products or offer beautiful experiences? It is all about connection through the senses and opening emotional channels.

5. Strengths

To have the greatest impact, we must identify and develop our strengths, skills and areas of intelligence through hard work, practice, and discipline.  There are no easy passes here. Hard work leads to genius, not genetics, and it takes several thousand hours to really master a profession or art form. Proficiency is about commitment. Organizations too need to leverage their core competencies to maximum advantage.  Build on what you do well and invent the future.

Again, one word:  IDEAS.

Copyright Eric W. Stein. 2014. All rights reserved.

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Why we need to focus on creativity

Organizations really need to focus on nurturing creativity in their people.

Our increasingly competitive economy is forcing companies to re-think their value propositions and business models. Consumers want well-designed products that are cool and that express their values. Unfortunately, many companies are ill-equipped to deliver.


Making hip, functional, and affordable products requires imaginative and highly skilled people.

  • Companies struggle to find and develop their creative talent.
  • Few recent graduates are prepared for the creative challenges posed by the new economy.

In short, we have a Creative Skills Gap.

For those who can address this gap, the benefits are enormous: profitable companies, self-actualized and successful workers, and a stronger economy.

Copyright Eric W. Stein. 2014. All rights reserved.

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