In 2018, artificial intelligence expert Kai-Fu Lee estimated that AI and automation would take over half of human work in 15 years. The pandemic has likely accelerated that timeline significantly. Since the virus struck, “I haven’t talked to anyone who’s not doing automation as a way to become more competitive, and more resilient,” IDC analyst Maureen Fleming told Wired.
Lee also predicted that creative jobs would survive automation because creativity is a uniquely human trait that no algorithm can replace.
And the pandemic is accelerating the importance of creativity, too. For instance, with in-person photo shoots largely impossible, companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Lowe’s are using 3D rendering tools to create assets for marketing campaigns and e-commerce sites that are even more vital now that foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores is way down.
Indeed, creative professions are some of the only fields that will withstand the rise of the robots and we need to do much more—right now—to ready ourselves, our companies, and our children for the creativity-focused future of work.
How do we prepare for a time in which our success will depend on our creativity? For starters, we can apply new thinking to three critical areas:
In many American schools, students are taught math every day of the week, and attend a visual arts class once a week. When our kids are in the workforce, though, many will need to be creative every day and need to do calculus approximately never.
We need to recognize that creativity is now a core capability. To stand out in their jobs, our kids must be outfitted to express their ideas visually, to quickly put together a compelling video, or to build a simple prototype to pitch a new idea. We need to give the same emphasis to the principles of design that we give to the grammar of sentences, the same attention to color theory that we give to statistics, and teach kids to use video-editing software like we teach them to use spreadsheets. Success for the next generation of workers will come down to making an impact in ways robots cannot.
The pandemic has thrown record numbers of people out of work—and many will never go back to their old jobs. Let’s stop hoping the world returns to the way it was, and start immediately retraining people for more stable, creative jobs.
It seems that few workers feel very confident about their creative skills. We recently studied 2 million job postings and 2 million resumes across 18 diverse high-growth fields. Half the job postings listed creativity as a necessary skill, but three out of four resumes didn’t include it.
I see people doing their best to fill this hole in their skillset. Since the pandemic hit, viewership at Adobe Live, which offers free tutorials and inspiration for creative projects, has more than doubled. And this isn’t just idle internet browsing—the average watch time is more than an hour.
So the interest is there and people can do a lot on their own. But they’d also benefit from structured programs that ensure they have the essential creative skills to compete. They’d benefit from familiarity with the most common creative tools, much like they have with common utilities like web browsers. Any good economic recovery plan should include that kind of training.
Companies historically outfitted their employees with the tools they needed to be productive, from tractors on farms to spreadsheet programs in offices. But as robots tend to fields and algorithms analyze data, workers will stand out more for their creativity than their productivity.
To set people up to succeed, companies need to give employees the tools they need to be creative. And it’s incumbent on creative tool makers, like Adobe, to meet the demand for easy-to-use creative tools for today’s (and tomorrow’s) knowledge workers.
It’s easy to see the spread of automation as a threat and there’s no doubt it will cause some painful disruption in the workforce. In the end, though, the transition from productivity-centered jobs to creativity-centered ones will be positive. After all, the satisfaction that comes from performing the same old task a little more quickly can’t compare with the pleasure of creating something unique and seeing it connect with other people. We just need to make sure that we’re preparing everyone to thrive in a more creative future—and we need to start today.
Scott Belsky is the chief product officer of Adobe. He founded Behance and wrote “The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture.”