Universities now turn out thousands of graduates every year who yearn to build successful careers for themselves. Some aspire to be successful entrepreneurs building their own enterprises, which is very much to be applauded as necessary for economic growth. But no matter how much training and education young people get, there is no guarantee of success in life whether as an employee in a large corporation or as an independent entrepreneur.
Some graduates have asked me: what is the secret to being successful in the course of a long career? Needless to say, there is no simple answer to this. However, one key factor stands out to me that characterises successful businesses and individuals. In my view, this factor characterises the most successful in the world. So what is this special factor? It is being “creative” and using creativity to do something special that gives a business a unique market position. This is good both for companies and individual employees.
We can all see the value of creativity by looking at just one company, namely Apple. They introduced computers with interesting and unusual physical designs, and were among the first to develop user interfaces based on using windows and icons. Their creativity has been carried through from their earliest computers to their latest iPhones. Another highly creative company is Dyson, which combined technological innovations with exciting physical designs to revolutionise vacuum cleaners, cooling fans, and other devices using air-flow technologies. Creativity can also apply to business processes. Companies such as Uber and Grab applied creativity to come up with a new way to hail a ride.
In our local context, Sunway Group became successful because its founder identified a creative use for disused tin mining land and turned it into a thriving sustainable metropolis and tourist destination. So what really counts in building successful businesses is imagination, vision and seeing things in entirely novel ways. All of which essentially equate to being creative.
Creativity is not something that all of us necessarily possess, nor is it something that can easily be taught. However, I believe that by having an open mind and challenging ourselves to look at things in entirely unusual ways, we can encourage creative thinking. One of the challenges of formal educational processes is trying to do this with students; to get them to look at things with entirely open minds and to challenge conventional wisdom and ways of doing things. We are all conditioned to follow established thinking, and coming up with something entirely creative is not easy to do. Students of the arts are better trained to think creatively than those in the sciences, business or finance. So the challenge for educationists is to find ways to help non-arts students to think creatively.
There is plenty of evidence that cross-disciplinary thinking fosters creativity and helps individuals break out from convention and normality. One of the global champions of creativity in education, Sir Ken Robinson, believes education as currently practised in many countries stifles curiosity and effectively enforces compliance and standardisation. I share his view that we need to do a lot more to nurture talent, passion and curiosity as a means of educating a generation of successful citizens and business people, and ultimately of re-energising our economy. So if you are now in business, or perhaps about to leave education and start a career, start thinking creatively if you want to be successful and take on the world.
Sometimes, thinking creatively involves risks because it means doing things in a new way that might not appeal to others. But if you can be creative in an appealing way, then you are likely to have a lot of success. Creativity with elegance is also a recipe for success. Elegance can be in the look and feel of a product, in its design, or even in the way a customer interaction takes place. People recognise elegance and creativity when they see it, and are willing to pay a premium for it if it meets their needs. It is a dominant feature of most world-famous premier brand goods that we all aspire to own.
So being creative has an enormous benefit to business, and creative people really need to be valued. I encourage parents to be supportive of sons and daughters who want to follow creative passions and take up creative arts degrees, such as the ones we have at Sunway University. The training so acquired will stand them in good stead in a wide range of careers, as creativity is truly at the heart of successful business.
Professor Graeme Wilkinson
Originally published in The Edge, March 2019