Contextual creativity can help people and organisations to adapt and innovate in the successfully in the digital age. Entrepreneur and tech philosopher, Somi Arian, explains all
‘Contextual creativity’ is one of the four unique human qualities that will help you future-proof your career in the AI era. What is it and how will it help humans to have the edge over automation?
Contextual creativity is our ability to understand the context of a situation and obtain creative ways to solve the issue or improve something/someone’s experience. People who have high contextual creativity are often versatile individuals and good at several different things. They can make connections between those things and develop innovative ways of working.
Adding the subjectivity
To practise understanding the context of a given situation, let us first examine the word ‘context itself’, which derives from the Latin ‘con’, meaning ‘together’, and text, from ‘tepee’,which means ‘to weave’. Therefore, context refers to all the circumstances in which a text was created and all the possible meanings that it can have depending on the reader’s subjective experience. By definition, a text does not contain its context. Context is a personal thing, and this missing piece of subjectivity in text, this shortcoming of the text, that it cannot, by itself, give us its whole meaning, is what allows us, humans, to enjoy art, stories, films, and so on. We add the subjectivity. For us, it is a subjective experience, and no two persons will enjoy these things in quite the same way. This subjectivity is what makes contextual creativity a uniquely human skill.
As it turns out, humans are not just able to understand their unique context, but we are also able to understand another person’s context. This quality, of course, is ‘empathy’ – the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. This empathy, combined with our ability to understand context, is what makes it possible for us to imagine creative ways to not only solve our own problems and boost our own life experiences (this would be ‘narrow creativity’), but to do it for others as well, be they humans, animals, or even our planet. This is what contextual creativity really is.
We can classify a lot of human-created art forms as ‘narrow creativity’ because they are more algorithmic than we might be aware of. There are already computer algorithms that can replicate art, music, and writing and fool us into thinking another human made them. Such is the example of computer scientist and Rutgers University Professor, Ahmed Elgammal, who developed a generative adversarial network known as ‘GAN’. GAN is composed of two algorithms, one that works as an image creator and a second that acts as an art critic and judges what the first does, prompting it to improve. These algorithms feed from the WikiArt database to ‘draw inspiration’ and learn. Interestingly, visitors to Art Basel 2016 seem to have preferred the artworks generated by GAN to the ones created by humans in the same exhibition.
Moore’s law states that computer power doubles every other year. This will affect the arts as much as any other human endeavour. If computers are already able to replicate art, music, and writing right now, imagine where we will be a few decades from now. It is already challenging to make a successful living out of being an artist. And although we have the internet, which gives us access to a broader audience, this also means that there are even more competitors trying to make it on all the social platforms. For now, a lot of people may still prefer something created by a fellow human over a machine, but this is not necessarily true for the wider masses, who will not mind who made an art piece as long as it looks pleasing to them.
The reality of the situation is that having a traditional career in the creative industries may become increasingly difficult in the future, but this does not mean that people will cease to pursue the arts and bring about the end of creativity. It just means that humans will have to adapt to new ways of working and find alternative positions inside their industry which are more likely to remain future-proof.
How to apply contextual creativity to your career
You do not have to be in the creative industry to innovate. No matter the industry, all you have to do is make sure you understand who you are serving, who your customer is, and how to better understand their context. If you already know this, then all you have to do is look for creative and ingenious ways to address their needs or enhance their experiences.
The following are ways of finding your own creative contexts:
Learn to fail: fear of failure is what stops most people from going ahead with a new endeavour and pushes them to follow the road most travelled instead. As long as you are prepared to fail within your limits of recovery, you will find your way.
Connect the dots: broaden your area of expertise to create more dots to connect, sometimes the connections might not be so obvious, but you have to be open to finding patterns everywhere you look. An excellent way to expand your knowledge is to take on semi-professional hobbies, for example.
Be an outsider on the inside: often, when we find ourselves in the middle of something, we are too close to it to come up with new ideas to catapult our career forward. Using contextual creativity, we can move to our circle’s edge and look at our business from a different perspective. This way, we will be able to find new ways to innovate and communicate our ideas to our target audience successfully.
Be open to contradiction: the world is full of paradoxical situations – being open to understanding them will help us come to terms with the contexts of situations. If we try to see the bigger picture, we will often find that these paradoxes make sense in some way and may even be inspired by it.
Improvise: life will always surprise us with situations we are not ready for. In our growing digital world, this is truer than ever and we need to be able to improvise by drawing from our past experiences and intuition. The more experienced we are, and the more knowledge we have, the better we will become at improvising in different situations.
Be present: it will not matter how much knowledge and information you have if you cannot connect the dots at the right moment. Being present and fully engaged in a situation is crucial for recognising opportunities for innovation. Being observant and a good listener are two of the most important skills someone can develop. We will never fully understand someone else’s context if we’re not 100% present and engaged at the right moment.
As we move into an age where new technologies constantly surround us, it is normal for people to seek new ways to experience life that may not currently exist. A considerable facet of contextual creativity is also to be able to pinpoint what people may want.
In all industries, humans will need to find ways to recognise what they can add to their business models to make them memorable and distinct from others. This will be accomplished by considering other people’s contexts and finding creative and unexpected ways to improve and upgrade their quality of life.
Somi Arian is a tech philosopher and entrepreneur. She is the Founder of Smart Cookie Media, a modern-day Digital Marketing firm for thought leaders and the Co-Founder of Career Drive, an online platform that uses entertainment to teach emotional intelligence. Somi is also the author of Career Fear (and how to beat it) (Kogan Page, 2020).
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