Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground: On Creativity
Since the turn of the millennium, creativity, both as concept and practice, seems to have become a contemporary social phenomenon. Often aiming at innovation, creativity permeates professional activities and organisational structures, from self-management to collective endeavours. The notion of creativity brings together a focus on the ceaseless creation of the new: original approaches, fresh solutions, unique brands. Curiosity, self-reflexivity, inquisitiveness, and an active imagination are key components of creativity. Posing meaningful questions is often associated with the role of art, as American technologist and designer, John Maeda, asserts when he writes: “Art is about asking questions – questions that might not be answerable.”
In the world of work, creativity has been hailed as one of the top 15 skills for 2025. In fact, in the hierarchy of those sought-after capabilities, creativity has increased its ranking over the past decade, attesting to the value attributed within the knowledge economies. It is expected that over the next few years, even greater emphasis will be placed on critical thinking, problem solving, self-determined learning, and on “creativity, originality and initiative.” 2 The shift from manufacturing to service industries is continuing to expand in post-industrial societies globally. In the countries that industrialised earliest, the focus currently lies on the transformation of data and information into knowledge and ‘innovation’, in a move towards information-based and interpersonal services, enabled by advances in science and technology. Moreover, a ubiquitous focus on creativity manifests in the growth of a ‘culture of experience’, shared on social media platforms and through virtual and physical networks. Self-creation and the concomitant endeavours of selfgrowth and self-renewal adopt quasi-artistic stances that target the experimental development of all facets of personal life in a drive for originality and singularity: from physical and/or mental techniques of self, including the perfection and adornment of the body and the choreographing of relationships, to leisure formats and modes and styles of consumption.
The emphasis on creativity has shaped the physical design of the contemporary workplace and of labour practices, evident in flexible set-ups that support a range of activities and foster informal encounters. The standardisation of the workplace and the routine character of labour make way for occupations in which the “continuous production of novel things” takes precedence.4 In addition, much of the labour activity in the professional fields of the digital economy and creative industries is based on selfemployment and multi-faceted, multi-context, project-based and thus diverse portfolios work. Entrepreneurship and effective networking, underpinned by continuous creative self-intervention and resilience, become de rigueur.
The increasing volatility of the world of work and the precarity of labour accelerated by the ‘digital shift’, require a capacity for and commitment to lifelong and self-determined learning. To meet the challenges of a rampantly changing professional world, creative workers need adaptable skillsets and complex competencies including cultural translation, dialogue, negotiation and conflict resolution, teamwork, and leadership. These professionals operate as navigators in a whole new world of participatory engagement: “designers find themselves at the centre of an extraordinary wave of cross-pollination” dealing with open-ended customised solutions, where the user in effect takes a more participatory role.5 At a time of unprecedented change through scientific and technological advances, and as the probability for dystopian scenarios mounts – caused by relentless pressures on the planet’s ecosystems and climate, the competition for scarce resources and arising conflicts – there has been a noticeable shift towards a continuous, broad-based focus on creativity, as well as on perception, empathy, and the kind of divergent thinking required to imagine alternative futures. The arts are prominently positioned to nurture intuition, activate tacit knowledge, and to act as seismographs, registering early tremors of emergent issues.
Lastly, creativity also concerns organisations and institutions, as evident in the imperative of permanent innovation, which not only informs the endless production of novel products but the internal structures and processes themselves, in order to remain agile and responsive to a range of interconnected societal challenges. The focus on creative leadership in organisations seeks to address complex issues in more sustainable ways, with the aim of envisioning alternative and desirable futures.6 Creative leadership is propelled by the potential for significant impact and societal change; it leverages pragmatism, empathy, and suggests that in solving an issue, there might be various pathways and multiple outcomes. In building bold visions, valuing participation, generating open dialogue, and fostering connectedness, creative leadership embraces contradicting insights, conflicting needs, complexity, and ambiguity, thus creating further opportunities for strategic action and sustainable impact.
Prof. Kerstin Mey
President, University of Limerick
Professor Kerstin Mey is the President of the University of Limerick, and as the Chief Executive Officer, is ultimately responsible for all of the operations of the University. After obtaining a PhD in Art Theory and Aesthetics at Humboldt University of Berlin, Kerstin held academic positions in universities in Germany and the UK. Before she joined the University of Westminster as Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean of Media, Arts and Design, and Professor of Contemporary Art and Theory in 2013, she was Director for Research and Enterprise at the University for the Creative Arts, UK.