Our future is intentionally creative

“What’s the job number for making myself invaluable here?”

Tim Brunelle
5 min readMay 24, 2023

One of the benefits of creativity is any human can do it, any time, with little or near zero skill. You can just “have an idea.” 🤔💡 You can spark a transformative moment in history. Or not. Likely not. But the opportunity exists. The call is clear.

Of course the hard part is having brilliant (or even serviceable) ideas — that’s really a matter of practice (more on that in a moment). And in our current AI-obsessed culture, it might seem as if ideas have already or will become even more humdrum. There will be more of them, to be certain.

Which is why I find it fascinating to hear someone claim, “I’m not creative.” Those three words communicate so much! They suggest an almost impossible circumstance — the unlearning of creativity — which each of us was born to do. Of course, those three words might just be an escape hatch. “I’m not creativeavailable for this work.” Sometimes including faint praise, “but I think you are.”

Given our current circumstances, however, I wonder if neglecting or deflecting your creativity is wise. In fact, I think our unique (human) abilities to create will now mean much, much more.

What if your creativity is all that differentiates you?

In a poignant conversation (Spotify link) around the future of work, employees, and training, Rishad Tobaccowala and HR legend Josh Bersin suggest, “the future of talent is crafting jobs around skills of the people versus fitting people into jobs.” The old way was fitting you into the role; you studied and trained to fit in. But it’s now appearing AI might fit some roles easier/better/cheaper than you. The new way is to leverage you for your differentiating value. So what might that be?

In a related post, the President of the British Chamber of Commerce, and Chancellor of Open University Martha Lane Fox paints the new/coming reality:

“The boundaries between work, learning and training have never been so blurry and I think people who see themselves as permanent students are more likely to be successful in their chosen field.

…there are shifts happening now that change the game. For example, is it your employer or you who is responsible for your skills development? What shape should that development take? How can you do a training course just once a year when the global business pace is picking up? These are consequential and complex questions especially as more people are becoming freelance workers.”

My sense is we will need more creativity, from more of us, as more knowledge work becomes commoditized via AI.

The Practice — Shipping Creative Work came out in 2020. I got around to finishing it yesterday, after listening to Tim Ferriss interview author Seth Godin. I think The Practice offers a potent roadmap for discerning and strengthening a differentiating creative ability relevant to all manner of knowledge work — and fits this time and place uniquely well.

Three themes worth considering:

1. Making change is what we do now

This is the book’s critical point. But let’s frame it in the age of AI.

In the age of AI your role isn’t to be a cog, or a generator or an assembler. Your role isn’t to attend meetings. Or cut/paste data. Or to summarize. Your role is to harness AI to do all those things so that you can make change. This is what “versus fitting people into jobs” means. And it will require a huge mindset shift, because we’ve just spent the past century teaching and training people to be cogs, to fit in, to play highly articulated roles within highly matrixed organizations; to enable the status quo, and to (as Godin put it in 2015) unlearn our creativity. The optimization of humanity was nice while it lasted.

But if the machine can do it, what are you here for?

You’re here to make change. (The AI machine is the tool you’ll use.)

Making change is what artists do.

You are an artist now. We’re all artists now.

(And yes, the definition of artist is going to evolve, perhaps radically, as well.)

2. We all work in R&D now

Prior to the age of AI many of us in corporate environments were on this collective twisty path towards certainty. The useful and necessary work of standardization (ISO, GAAP, franchising agreements) built the ethos we currently sustain. That framework of agreements is comforting and alluring, and in many circumstances of great benefit. But I’m not convinced the age of AI will further codify and strengthen our desire for certainty. Or as Godin puts it, “If we knew how to do this work, we would have done it already.”

I suspect the age of AI will open more doors (and many of them doors we didn’t know existed) than it closes. In that environment, our roles become less optimizer and more explorer — more artistic. AI will help speed our ability to identify a greater range of actionable constraints (i.e. limitations within materials, regulation, physics, formats) upon which we can invent and disrupt with wider impact. Simply put, “The uncertainty is the point.”

The age of AI repositions a vast amount of work from the middle to the edge. From practitioner of rote routine to evangelist of courageous disruption. These new tools unlock a much wider playing field for the average knowledge worker, where, “elusiveness isn’t a problem, it’s not a bug, it’s not something to be eliminated,” but leveraged.

3. Now, what’s your narrative?

Pre-AI, old school corporate behavior sought to control the outcome, to think and organize around known processes and to dispel the uncertain. But the arrival of software, then the Internet (and, frankly, the pandemic) punctured that thesis and it’s been dying ever since. We need a fresher narrative if we’re going to solve the kinds of challenges our world currently faces. “Our narrative informs our choices, our commitments, and most of all, our ability to make a difference in the culture,” writes Godin.

The Practice recommends three components to discern:

  1. [Your definition of] How the world works
  2. [Your definition of] Your role in that world
  3. [Your definition of] What might happen next

Take the next 90 seconds and write a draft thesis.

Seriously.

Take the next 90 seconds and write a draft thesis.

⏲️

Then block 30 minutes in your calendar within the next seven days to refine.

📅

Then you might gut test your definitions against peers or others whose outcomes you admire; and if your definition works — keep following it. If not, continue refining.

“The goal is to become the best in the world at being you. To bring useful idiosyncrasy to the people you seek to change, and to earn a reputation for what you do and how you do it.”

The age of AI will ask more of our creativity, not less.

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Tim Brunelle

I'm a creative enterprise leader, teacher, and entrepreneur living in Minneapolis.