What’s next after STEM?

So what’s coming out of STEM?

We have machine learning and artificial intelligence showing up as bots who look like a nice person wanting to help us on websites, and marketing that is tailored to our interests. Drones that can take photos, deliver packages and pizzas. Faster, less human interaction, cut out the dangerous risks and support independence. Virtual reality that shows us what we can’t necessarily see otherwise. We have the Internet of Things, BlockChain, and any number of other things that sit in the background making our lives easier and better managed. The automation of otherwise dangerous jobs is saving lives. These things have added to our quality of life in so many ways.

But what are we losing in the process?

Industry workforce planning reports are identifying the need for ‘soft skills’ especially around communication, negotiation, innovation and skills of being about to work together with empathy and insight into the needs of others. Employers complain about Millennials and their attachment to their phone, social media and that they should be running the business in their second week on the job. This cohort will be 2/3 of the workforce in the very near future.

Joining the dots with what we’re getting from STEM… we have work that can be done by robots being done by robots, but in the process, we’re losing our human engagement skills and a big one is creativity in its broadest sense. Robots can only do as programmed even when they have machine learning processes build in. I recently saw a news story of old people having robot friends who looked after them. I almost cried for the loneliness of the person and their lack of human touch and the kindness that only a human can supply. Robot engagements are just not the same. And the Turing test for the humanness of artificial intelligence, actually concerns me as an ethical issue. A conversation for another day perhaps.

While developing all of these great innovations in STEM uses creativity and could not happen without it, the integration of these products into our everyday lives actually is cutting out the need to do a lot of things for ourselves and therefore reducing the need for creativity or even using our soft skills.

So what comes after STEM? Creativity.

The next wave after STEM is ‘creativity’ and all that comes with it… Innovation, repurposing, making, designing, caring for others … all the beautiful gifts that machines cannot do no matter how well they are programmed. And with it the array of soft skills such as attitudes of kindness and empathy that machines cannot really replicate. (See Jacinta Ardhern, NZ Prime Minister on this Listen from 3.0min ). I’m really excited by the prospects of this new wave and the potential of a richly satisfying world where the real and deeper needs of people are met as a usual thing and are not so novel anymore.

So as educators (teachers, trainers, online L&D, IDs) how do we give people learning experiences so they can develop the creative and soft skills?

I would suggest this might include:

  • Support ideas and conversation in training and learning activities. Use the discussion boards, networking time, ideas boards, buddy systems in projects so skills are taught and shared, shadowing and mentoring… Nick Skillicorn’s podcasts at Idea to Value are worth a listen to around this
  • A resurgence in people teaching and learning simple crafts such as knitting, sewing, woodwork and household maintenance – learning to use your hands as well as creativity and empathy to make things- useful or otherwise
  • Play games (boardgames, sports, gamified training activities…) – use the interaction to talk to others, develop listening skills and diplomacy (to avoid fights, and everyone gets at least something of what they want).  Learn the rules and then strategies for how to break or get around them legally (creatively)
  • Volunteer at places of human need - Aged care facilities, homelessness services, disability support services… learn to listen to those not living the same life as you and broaden your thinking to accept new/different thoughts and ways of being
  • ·        Travel – experience how other cultures have solved problems and think about things that might not be familiar with, preferably in person so the richness of the experience can be fully had, but also using VR
  • Stop doing things FOR people and spend the time to help them learn for themselves. Sit with them, encourage them to keep trying, demonstrate skills, show them things they might not have thought about, kick around ideas and test them out.

So what are the rewards of moving into creativity and using soft skills for individuals?

  • Pleasure, Happiness through the delight of being creative
  • Belonging and Purpose though being part of...
  • Confidence through independence and know they can do things and have skills
  • Less loneliness, better mental health and (hopefully) lower suicide rates and rates of anti-social behaviour
  • Lower environmental impacts as we are less consumerist, more empathetic and more knowledgeable of our impact on people and the environment
  • More skilled in thinking laterally, problem solving, joining unexpected dots to get solutions to wicked problems

And then there’s the business outcomes of:

  • Customers who feel heard so want to engage with your business
  • Design thinking developed products that actually solve a need or problem and so should be easier to sell
  • People who can adapt to your business needs and want to contribute as workers or mentors
  • People who stay with your business both as employees and customers which saves you a lot of money in marketing and recruitment

Let me know what you think.

What would you add to the strategies educators can use to help learners develop creative skills?


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