Creativity has Left the Building

In a recent study of the professional upskilling deemed most necessary in 2021, LinkedIn reports that the top category of learning will be “resilience and adaptability.” No surprise, given the year we’ve had. What is perhaps more surprising, and for me more disheartening, is the category that was at the top of the list in 2019 and 2020 is now at the bottom. The bottom. Can you guess what it is? Creativity.

There are likely many reasons for this demotion, including that a survey on a global scale is like a big game of “Would you rather” — if I had to choose between adaptability and creativity right now, my selection would strengthen their findings.

But it has me thinking both about the importance of creativity and how difficult it’s been to access lately. Neil Gaiman has said, “We have an obligation to imagine.” Well, we’ve been shirking that responsibility. What might it take to get our creative mojo back?

Imagination has been described as “taking those things you have in your memory and putting them together in a new way.” I’m fascinated by the emerging understanding of the neurological links between memory and imagination. Being in a long term state of fear and stress can shrink our hippocampus, the part of our brain that is responsible for both memory and imagination. It is also true in reverse: activating our memories can stimulate creative thinking. Maybe it’s time to pull out the old photo albums and bake that bread that Grandma used to make.

I spoke to someone recently who said they have not met one new person in over a year. Creativity is often seen as a solo activity, but it actually thrives in groups (1). To the extent that we have allowed pandemic life to disconnect us from diverse people who inspire us and sharpen our thinking, it’s understandable our imaginations have taken a hit. Despite missing in-person visits, digital collaborative tools can truly now connect us to the world. Let’s not miss that opportunity.

Creativity also requires meeting demands and responding to trials (2). Finally, an area in which we can excel in these challenging days! Look no further than the advances in vaccine development and ventilators for proof of that.

“But. I. am. so. tired.” Here’s another bit of good news. Your tired brain may actually be more creative than if you felt more alert! Wandering, non-linear, broad-gauged thoughts help the associational thinking that generating insight requires. Creativity loves inefficiency, a lack of focus and weak filters for so-called distractions. (3) Phew!

Unfortunately, unlike many other brain activities, we can’t cue creativity (4). It doesn’t appear by sheer force of our will. But to the extent that, as Rob Hopkins suggests, imagination is an essential leadership skill, we would be wise to reconnect with the conditions that help it flourish. Because if we truly want to learn to be adaptable, it’s going to take some creativity to get us there.

(A couple of other pieces of reassuring news: naps and walks help too. But oh, the pressure on our poor afternoon walks!)



  1. Collective Genius, Linda Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove & Kent Lineback
  2. The Geography of Genius, Eric Weiner
  3. A Tired Brain Could Actually Be More Creative, Marissa Fessenden and Why We’re More Creative When We’re Tired, Belle Beth Cooper
  4. The Neuroscience of Creativity, Scott Barry Kaufman with Anna Abraham

2 Replies to “Creativity has Left the Building”

  1. It’s interesting to see these trends! It’s all the more interesting to me because I think I’ve been trending in the opposite direction!

    I’m rushing less over the past year; I’ve adopted (been forced to adopt) a slower pace of life, and that has left more room for “constructive boredom”, daydreaming, etc. We sold our car. We don’t have a TV or Netflix. I’ve stopped following the news. I believe all of these things combined has reduced the load on my mental capacity, and consequently, has created space and opportunity to be creative.

    I wonder too if these trends are also a reflection of the human capital people had coming into the pandemic. If you had been cruising along without many testing or trying experiences, and then a pandemic hits – BOOM! You’ve got to learn those skills really fast. Alternatively, I wonder if introverts and ambiverts who were already more isolation-loving from the get go are now relishing the uninterrupted space.

    All this to say: interesting trends! Loving my recent creative reboot!

    1. Love this, Cameron! I’ve experienced some of that too – even as an extrovert, I’ve enjoyed the quieter calendar. But you’ve left me even more curious — what have you enjoyed filling the new-found space with?

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