Creative professionals for a world of complexity, change and competition

Jenny Willis


For CEOs and their organizations, avoiding complexity is not an option — the choice comes in how they respond to it. Will they allow complexity to become a stifling force that slows responsiveness, overwhelms employees and customers, or threatens profits? Or do they have the creative leadership, customer relationships and operating dexterity to turn it into a true advantage? (Capitalising on complexity, IBM 2010)

A recent study by IBM reminds us of the professional world for which we are preparing graduates: it is one of unpredictability, constant change and competition. Simply having a good subject knowledge and practical experience is no longer sufficient to secure individual employment or corporate success. The ability to manage insecurity and change extends beyond the workplace into our everyday lives. In this world, generic, transferable skills such as communication, dispositions like resilience and motivation, and the ability to think creatively are paramount. So how well is Higher Education meeting these 21st century needs? This paper examines the findings of 3 complementary surveys conducted at the University of Surrey between November 2009 and December 2010, two as partners in the Creative Interventions Project, sponsored by the Higher Education Academy. The aim was to examine students’ perceptions of what it means to be a creative professional, where and how they develop the competences they expect to help them succeed. Through on-line questionnaires and in-depth interview, the research investigated the nature of professional development acquired through the curriculum, through co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The paper discusses findings against the IBM model of creative leadership for a complex, unpredictable, world. It finds considerable consistency but concludes that professional development arises from a mixture of lifewide experiences, albeit that tacit learning is under-valued. The challenge is to provide developmental opportunities and formally recognise lifewide achievement.

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