The old is giving way to the new. Our world is being disrupted by developments ranging from globalisation to new technologies and climate change. We are being challenged to be more innovative than ever in order to survive and thrive. But what type of innovation should we be seeking as we approach what is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Until recently, innovation has been associated with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, the so-called STEM disciplines. You would not find many examples of creativity in innovation been showcased. Well not in the popular technical publications glorifying faster processing speeds.

Professionals in these disciplines have been trained to think analytically and the innovations they have brought into our world have been based mainly on improvements to their technologies. They have tended to work within the box, but in a fast-changing world the need to think outside of the box by developing multifaceted skills is becoming imperative.

Welcome to the  Rise of the creative class

Creative classIn 2002 Richard Florida published his well researched book “The Rise of the Creative Class” where he argues that creativity is critical to unlock economic growth in cities.

Florida manages to succinctly capture the value of the new creative class and the essence of human capital and the importance of having a creative ethos. He says that the best educated and most
creative members of society want to live in diverse, culturally rich places that encourage spaces for people to be themselves.

So in the new age town engineers and planners need to have deep empathy for their citizens. However when you visit most traditional universities you will see empathy, ethics and citizenship been taught in the arts and humanities fields.

So how do we get people who have been trained to think analytically to embrace empathy and creativity?

The Government of Finland has recently launched their “Experimentation Accelerator” to help promote this way of thinking amongst their civil servants. It’s described as “a network-based self-organising platform for innovative public servants to develop cross-sectoral solutions through co-creation, mutual learning and sparring from inspiring innovation champions.”

Welcome to STEAM

STEM is now becoming STEAM, with the “A” in the new acronym represented by Art and Design. These are the critical creative elements that we need to embed in our thinking in order to meet our new challenges. Art and Design and the creativity they bring to us are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.

The STEAM age is slowly but surely taking shape in different forms in many parts of the world, with many agencies exploring how creative and innovative solutions and sustainable design can help benefit society at large.

Using photography to drive empathy

We see traditional STEM companies embedding STEAM into their strategy to make them future-ready. I was privileged to be given the opportunity to pilot sucha project between a large global engineering consulting practice and a photographer based in South Africa.

Yasser BooleyThe photographer, Yasser Booley, was embarking on a long distance journey from Cape Town, South Africa to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania using only public transport.

The Afrikanist in Motion project captured the unique transport challenges that confront the majority of people in Africa. It provides a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of public transport commuters, offering valuable insights to help inform better infrastructure design and transport planning and provide relevant solutions tailored to the African context.

The objective of an initiative such as this was to transform the company’s projects from being technical-driven to becoming people- and community-driven. This is far removed from the traditional public participation process in which a project is first designed and then presented to communities for approval. It starts creating a culture of putting yourself in the shoes of the end user before drawing the first line on the page.

Are you ready to embrace creativity?

Creativity is a fundamental building block of innovation. When you fuse the creative and technical worlds, the pay-off is a sweet spot where innovation can flourish.

How open is your organization to creativity?

Does your company culture encourage and embrace creativity?

Many people tell me: “Im not creative”. This is not true. You just need to rediscover the four-year old in you.

Many CEOs tell me “I’m not creative.” To them my response is: “If you cannot dance then create the space for people to dance.”

So who will become the Da Vinci of the fourth industrial revolution?

Keen to hear your comments below.

Zambian Girl from Afrikanist in Motion collection


  1. Kat


    Wow, I wasn’t aware that STEM has been evolved into STEAM. I love that the artistic and creative is being embraced and applied within the future of innovation and the way forward. It’s requires stereotypes to be stretched and broken to develop and evolve to emerge with empathy and creativity. This is so intriguing, but it also makes sense. Thanks for your observation and education of how empathy and creativity will merge with new ideas and the technical world. I especially love how Finland are already onto this, they’re on the ball! Thanks for sharing. 

    • Abbas


      Thanks Kat for sharing your thoughts.  Depending on where in the world you are we see the role of creativity changing.  World class innovative companies are embracing designers.  Successful urban precincts are built around the creative industries and now schools are starting to teach the importance of blending creativity and science.  How do we create an environment where the next Leonardo da Vinci can flourish?  Leonardo who lived in the late 1400s is regarded as the “Renaissance Man”, some have even referred to him as the prime example of the “Universal Genius”. He lived at the time in a place where art was revered and he produced the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.  Yet he also conceptualised flying machines and concentrated solar power.  In fact relatively few of his inventions were constructed because the engineering world had not yet developed to the point that could support his inventions.  By blending art into STEM we can create an environment where the next Da Vinci can flourish.

  2. Lok Which


    You have made me learn that I can I do what I feel I cannot do.I love to be creative but I do have a feeling in my mind that am not creative but reading through this I can see that I haven’t discover myself all I need to do is to discover myself, Something that bother me now is must I be trained to think in order to be creative? because u said professional are trained in this post

    • Abbas


      Hi Lok creativity takes many shapes and forms.  There is no right or wrong. Its a different way of thinking to traditional corporate financial technical thinking.  We are naturally creative when we are young and then it actually gets stifled.  As a four year old you ask Why?  At some point your parent says: “Because I say so.”  Then you go to school and it gets further stifled because you are asking too much questions.  By the time you go to college your inquisitive side is separated from your academic studies.  You leave the experimentation and inquisitive side for the club or society you belong to.  And by the time you start working you learn to follow the corporate rules.  You become a successful corporate banker and then spend a lot of money buying artwork because art interests you but your don’t believe you are creative.  We need to break that cycle and it starts at school. We need to bring the art and STEM worlds together.  Children need to understand the importance of creativity and even if you are not good at Maths and Science you can be a shaper of the future.

  3. charles39


    I will agree with you innovation is the key to unlock  the potential within the human race  but it can hindered  by so many other things major being luck of financing your creativity   so how are in affiliate marketing  helping toward  creativity  in our society and how can we bridge the gap for those who creative enough but the don’t have  financing .

    • Abbas


      Thanks Charles an important question. Unfortunately most businesses still view arts and creativity as this thing that you give some money to in the form of sponsorship or corporate social investment.  The companies that have embraced design thinking have started to employ large amounts of designers into their business. These are people that did not have a role to play in the corporate world before.  They are now seen as a fundamental part of helping drive company strategy and change management.  The power of having a creative person at your boardroom table becomes difficult to quantify but companies are starting to see the value of this new lens.  So its not about funding creativity separately in the business.  Its about fully embracing the power of the creative class.  Read the book, it explains this power with good back-up research.

  4. Stratos K


    Your article gave me a lot of food for thought. Most people don’t think can be creative when this is not something you have to push yourself to achieve. Nowadays our way of life, when we are pushed to make a living, is not helping to achieve creativity. Unfortunately the environment we live in also doesn’t help. That’s why innovation is hard to be achieved nowadays. New challenges need a new way of thinking and this is hard to come by today.

    • Abbas


      Hi Stratos thanks for the observation and comment.  Absolutely correct the world we are living in is driven by creating shareholder value and doing things faster.  This has created a mentality that is not necessarily conducive to creativity.  However there is a new wave of thinking coming through that says maybe we need tp start slowing things down.  Can we really continue at this pace at a global level? Embracing creativity is  beautiful way to bring that slowness into your world.  Pause, lift your head up and enjoy the world.  Its a fantastic journey once you embark on it and hopefully you can pick up a few people on the way.

  5. Stew


    I understand the stem and steam concepts, but from what I have read over the past couple of years is that the push for arts and design is too much.  I feel this steam movement is driven by only arts and design culture.

    How do you allow arts and design into the stem concept without compromising what is already there?

    • Abbas


      Hi Stew thanks for the question.  At the moment STEAM as a narrative is being driven by the design world.  However more and more corporates are starting to discover the power of creativity.  They don’t label it as STEAM but essentially that’s what it is. You might know that the whole design thinking industry has taken off and is making significant changes to the way businesses think.  Large corporations have embraced this approach in various forms from SAP to Philips to Apple.  They each have their own approach but its built around having a deep understanding of their end user which starts with understanding empathy.  In order for these companies to stay ahead of the competition they need to understand their end user and then provide innovative solutions to their clients real problems. 

      So its not about compromising what is already there but more about enhancing.  We see AI severely impacting hard core technical industries because they can do the analytics so much faster.  So if the AI is doing lots of the analytics what is your engineer going to do.  This is where the creativity comes in.  Making sure you are asking the right question, solving for the right problem and having a deep empathy for the end user.  Art and design allows you to create an environment that is conducive for this to happen in a structured way.

  6. Lok Which


    Thanks for this post because i couldn’t achieve my resolution on my earth for this year going to an end. I made a resolution of going to gym, working out so that I will shred fat but I didn’t achieve that because I gave up doing exercises when I discover the pain I feel won’t allow me do my other jobs,but I’m grateful for coming across this post because it has given me no excuse to give up, it has encouraged me and i believe this coming new year I will achieve what I couldn’t achieve this year.

    • Abbas


      Hi Lok thanks for the post.  We all have a role to play when it comes to innovation and unlocking new ideas, new resolutions and new ways of doing things.  Sometimes the system tells us that we are just passengers.  We quickly get caught up in that way of thinking. There is a simple exercise you can do called the 5 Whys.  Once you have a resolution ask yourself Why?  Once you get an answer ask again why to this new answer.  Cary on like this, by the time you get to the fifth why you normally have discussed the real reason for you wanting to do something.  This is a powerful tool if you are honest with yourself.  All the best on your journey of discovery.

  7. Renton


    This is quite interesting. I think you are right that creativity is vital to building the future. The STEM fields do focus on teaching critical thinking and using a set formula for solving problems and you are correct in stating that creativity is not often the focus of people in this field which is perfectly understandable given the nature of these jobs.

    I think that allowing creativity and practicality to influence each other would result in designs and creations that are far superior and well thought out in terms of the actual user. These designs would be far better suited as they are not stuck in the same box that the old designs are chained to.

    • Abbas


      Hi Renton thanks for the feedback.  As you correctly say the role of most technical people are to follow codes and procedures.  We can move towards providing a very good technical solution that will stand the test of time.  However are we solving the right problem? Are we asking the right question?  In many cases we have a predetermined solution in our mind and need some professional to now confirm this for us.  And we pay companies lots of money to confirm our world view.

      Once you embed systems thinking tools like design thinking into technical people you get them to start placing the end user at the centre of everything they do. They start seeing things from a perspective that they never imagined.  These are things that are not taught in textbooks.  When you do this you unlock innovation which is human centric and groundbreaking.

  8. Tsquare


    This is an inspiring article which is aimed at awakening our sense of creativity. People have always been giving maximum attention to the scientists and engineers in our society. For our society to grow we need to encourage the creative minds. And according to this article the Art and Design can seriously contribute to the global economic growth of 21st century. 

    I’m a fan of great art and culture and I really appreciate the power of creativity. 

    • Abbas


      Thanks for your comments.  The challenge is for us to unlock our creativity in our places of influence.  The corporate world and government has become so stifled and rigid that we are killing innovation.  People are too scared that they are going to say the wrong thing or do something wrong.  We really need to unlock the 4 year old that continually asks Why?  Once organisations understand the power of creativity and innovation that accompanies that we will discover new opportunities and futures.

  9. Robert Trevor


    Is The new technology, really going to change society, as much radically ,and quantitively as the present setup?

    Would the projected empathetically designed African transport system give us  different shaped or articulated vehicles, or different mechanically?

    Does this new technology mean that we have to train a whole new type of designers? If so we will have to create a whole new set of university faculties,

    • Abbas


      Hi Robert thanks for the comments and questions. With regard new technology we do not even know how much its going to change everything. However many people struggle with this concept of understanding innovation.  Technology is merely the enabler of innovation, its not the innovation itself.  If we look at the internet we see that its driving innovations like the shared economy and cryptocurrencies.  We do not yet know what a fully entrenched shared economy looks like.  People are starting to embrace things like Uber and AirBnB.  However this is only the start of this thing called the shared economy.  Once youngsters that are born to millennials start growing up with the shared economy and it becomes normal its going to change everything.  How does the motor manufacturing industry respond to generation A not wanting to own vehicles?  etc.  We do not yet know what this world looks like. 

      With regard to transport systems the exercise showed that you don’t need to just accept the global norm of what a public transport system should look like.  Once you really understand the end user you can design a completely different system to meet those needs instead of using a traditional cut and paste approach.

      And finally yes we definitely need a whole new approach to university education.  We are still using a very old classroom methodology with exams to test ability.  The traditional curricula is being overtaken by artificial intelligence.  You have machines that can perform medical operations, design structures and make a verdict of guilty or not.  The big thing that differentiates us from machines is the creativity.  So no matter what you are studying make sure that you embrace creativity as part of your learning.

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