Is creativity our key to a better future?

There’s a worrying sign today that we are losing our sense of what it means to be human. How do we make sure we don’t get swallowed up by the tsunami of technology that consumes our everyday lives? Rachel Laing, student at Tech Futures Lab, has an idea.

Have you met Emma, your potential work colleague of the future?

Emma is an almost horror-like zombie representation of what office workers of the future could end up looking like if we don’t change the sedentary behaviours this digital-age has forced us to adopt.

Rachel Laing, is one person who does not accept that we will be sharing an office with ‘Emma’ type workers in the future.

As a student on the Postgraduate Certificate in Human Potential for the Digital Economy, Rachel’s purpose on the programme has been to determine how we all can avoid ending up looking like Emma. And it’s not just about being active, it’s essentially about being creatively inspired.

Rachel has never been the type of person to sit down on the job. The energetic lively mother of four has spent most of her career moving. She trained as a dancer, actress, yoga teacher and group fitness instructor, so movement is built into her DNA.

Once the demands of raising four children started to ebb, Rachel was ready to find a way she could combine her love of movement with the contemporary workplace. “I was thinking about how to get movement into corporate environments”.

She started her journey at the University of Auckland, but after a year of “fixed mindset” academic- led learning, she decided she needed to look elsewhere.

“I discovered that I wasn’t really going forwards, I was doing what I’d already done and already knew. There wasn’t a lot of room for creativity in the programme – from the way it was being taught to the way I wanted to develop my thesis. I thought: I know there’s a better way of learning and exploring.”

That’s how Rachel discovered the Postgraduate Certificate in Human Potential for the Digital Economy at Tech Futures Lab. She came along to an Open Lab info session about the programme and connected with it immediately. “They [the panellists] were talking about digitisation, the impact on humanity and I thought maybe this could be a way I could keep developing my idea of movement in the workplace.”

Rachel is adamant Emma is not the type of evolutionary progress we should accept. Because aside from the horrifying physical deterioration Emma projects, the way we work in offices also stifles our creativity. And that is a critical attribute to foster in retaining our humanity.

“Through my study here, I’ve evolved my idea to be more than just movement in the workplace, although that is still very important. I’m now looking at ways that allow for creativity in the workplace. Movement is one of those solutions.”

Because creativity may be key to human survival. This isn’t about creativity in the arts – what Rachel is focusing on is creative thinking.

We’re all born with a creative mindset – it’s an innate human characteristic to be able to look at options and make decisions using creative thinking techniques. Just watch how differently babies choose to move – some crawl, others roll, some flip or a combination of all the above. What’s similar here is that they all use creative thinking as a means to work out their own unique way to get the outcome they desire.

Creative thinking is fundamental to problem-solving as it enables us to look at things differently and to see opportunities where others may have seen none. And that ability to have a more adaptive mindset is incredibly important in these uncertain complex times.

In a world where the workplace is projected to become more automated and machine- assisted due to emerging technologies like AI, machine learning and robotics, we can see this as a huge opportunity – to free ourselves from the mundanity of repetitive tasks and instead work on creative problem-solving.

But we first need to give ourselves, us humans, permission to be creative. And that’s where the workplace comes in. The modern-day workplace, with its structure and conformity and the demands of productivity and efficiency, has gradually suppressed our ability to think creatively.

“For people to access their creativity or be in a place to get that creative insight, they need to be doing things that are peaceful; like walking, going for a run, dancing, doing pottery, even having a shower. It’s easier to get creative insight and problem solve when your mind is at rest.”

But in the workplace, this quiet space isn’t catered to. “People go from one meeting to another, to planning and doing, to emails and phone calls… but they’re not working time into their schedule to just ‘be human’. That’s where the creative stuff happens – it can inform really amazing design and support effective problem solving.”

In her research, Rachel found there were two broad types of companies – the first group is “looking for ways for employees to be healthy and happy and enjoy what they’re doing. And then there’s this other group that seems to focus on productivity – ‘what can I get out of the employees’. That’s not where we want to go, we don’t want to turn people into machines. We’ve got to make a conscious effort not to do that. We need to remain human.”

When we allow ourselves and those we work with to lead with a creative mindset, we free ourselves from conformity. We think differently, we challenge what has always been and consider new possibilities. We start to focus on innovation rather than repetition. And we get much more personal satisfaction from it which can offer a deeper sense of purpose.

So despite all the technology around us, it seems the future is our creativity. And this is how Rachel is finding Human Potential in the Digital Economy.

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