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December 19, 2018

How to look at art: Success in 21st century: Stand out by being creative

Hellen, 27, Nairobi
Hellen, 27, Nairobi

Creativity has become one of the core competencies recognised by proponents of the 21st-century education critical to preparing young people for the jobs of tomorrow. 

Technology rapidly changes the way we live and work. Focus on routine work has shifted to the knowledge-based work and invention of new products and services.

Creativity is now a top skill required by employers. However, schools and colleges do not meet a growing demand for the creative workforce newcomers. There is a common misperception that creativity is for artists, and cannot be taught. Creativity is the ability to see problems and to solve them in a new and effective way in all walks of life.

The Kenyan government has recently given creativity its due recognition, making it one of the seven ‘core competencies’ of the basic school curriculum. The rationale of this important reform is to get every student fully ready for the future.

I began teaching creativity to young Kenyans at my organisation MASK ten years ago, fostering students’ creative thinking and behaviour. In context of the long-lasting impact of creativity on the lives of young people, a story of one of my students, Hellen, is worth telling.

Hellen, now 27, attended the MASK Creativity Club at her school in a small remote village in Kenya for three years. After school, she went to study analytical chemistry at a college. There, she began as a true creative. She invented a new drug from a local plant that was so effective her college even intended to patent it. 

“MASK developed a habit of innovating in me. I want to innovate everything now,” Hellen explained.

She joined a pharmaceutical company in Nairobi after graduating, and within months, aged just 23, was promoted to “supervise a team of all-men who have been at the company for years”. She credited her success to creativity. 

“Coming to the job, I suggested a more effective way of managing it and got noticed.” Later moving to an even larger company, she became “an auditor responsible for the design of new analytical procedures”, and was given an office and a higher salary. In her spare time, she joined a local land investment group and dabbed in entrepreneurship, hoping to innovate some aspects of farming. 

“MASK taught me to think outside the box, to develop entrepreneurial ideas,” she said.

Recently, she got a job in Unilever. Interviewing 60 candidates from the various parts of Kenya, the company chose Hellen. “You stood out from all the candidates for your creative attitude,” the human resource manager told her. 

“Eighty per cent of the questions were about problem-solving. The interviewing panel wanted to know how do I approach the problems,” Hellen told me. Her replies showed that she searched for the solutions across a wide range of knowledge and domains. She gave an example of a customer who complained of a product at her previous job. Hellen went to see the customer at his farm and noticed that the problem was not the product but the equipment that operated it. She straightened the equipment and a week later, received a happy call from the customer.

Employers need people like Hellen. They are the companies’ main competitive advantage. They “know how to think outside the paradigm, to kick-start a new idea, to get a job done better,” says a GlaxoSmithKline CEO.

Hellen is confident in her future. Being creative firmly ensures her continued success. Onwards and upwards, Hellen!


How creative are you? To find out, take this creativity questioner:

 Alla Tkachuk is the Founder of MASK ‘creativity for jobs and leadership’ training in Kenya,[email protected]

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