The impact of tech on creative people

Everyone’s talking about how to harness tech for creative work but what about the impact of tech on creative people themselves? Jamshid Alamuti of the Berlin School considers the future

3D illustration of robots.
3D illustration of robots.

In the 4th century BC Aristotle used to sit in the shade and debate with his followers and students. Today, I am sitting in some airport, moderating a discussion with my students via WhatsApp. They are in Brazil, the UK, Africa, USA, Sweden, Lebanon and some more locations around the globe. We are, appropriately enough, debating the future impact of technology on the creative industry.

In the past couple of years I have met creatives from the design, advertising, film production, radio and music industries who were all grappling with the same question: “How should we transform in order to make the best use of new technology for our clients and audiences?”

What I keep missing though is any discussion about the implications of introducing and using technology – particularly automation – on the industry itself. Remember the first time the car industry introduced robots? How many people lost their jobs? What could the impact of automation be on the creative sector? The latest research claims that while holding companies such as WPP and Publicis need around 70 employees to generate $10M in revenue, Facebook and Google need just 7 or 8!

So, I am throwing these questions at my students – a group of senior creatives, CCOs, CMOs, film-industry marketing strategists, creative consultants and many more – and comparing them with my studies and discussions I’ve had with more than 400 creative individuals globally.

For example, let’s look at the idea that new technology will save time. The general response from the group is that the idea of ‘spare time’ is an illusion. We are, so to speak, slaves of our infrastructure. If you are employed for a salary, you will work your hours. Rather than create ‘spare time’ the impact of technology has been to force us to do more than before within the same timeframe.

In future, the value of work will be measured by outcomes and not by time spent in a specific location e.g. the office. In a game based on executing the maximum number of repetitive tasks in a given period, machines will beat humans every time.

If technology replaces what we do today, perhaps it will create the space to look at other challenges?

And what about the threat that technology might replace humans? If you can’t demonstrate some unique creative skill, you may be vulnerable, either to machines or other younger and cleverer individuals who interact better than you with the new technological opportunities. How can we re-evaluate the creativity produced by humans, away from executing technical tasks that can be performed by machines and toward contributions that cannot be automated?

If technology replaces what we do today, perhaps it will create the space to look at other challenges? Isn’t that what the nature of human intelligence is driven by? The pioneers among us are already re-inventing the usage of creativity beyond traditional streams. A must-read in this area is Clay Shirky’s Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age on cognitive surplus and how technology makes consumers into collaborators.

  • Let me sum up and capture some of the key ideas thrown at me in this WhatsApp class of mine. Think of it as a list of duties, responsibilities and ideas I’d like to provoke you to get busy with.
  • Technology is and remains a tool. It’s a gift to you. Enjoy it with no fear and remain responsible.
  • The educational system needs redesigning to respond to this technical evolution in creativity.
  • Give yourself a tech-free time every now and again.
  • Productivity should and will not be defined by time anymore but by outcome. This will be the only way to value creativity in future. Ideation in particular will gain in value once again as technology cannot produce original creative ideas, it can only anticipate or inform them.
  • Technology is not guaranteed to provide you with more free time. But if you do win time because of technology, dedicate it to remaining human. This helps to better use technology for a better world.

An interesting ‘WhatsApp class’. I must though admit, I missed being with my group in a room. As Daft Punk says, it is all about a ‘real touch’!


Jamshid Alamuti is Managing Director of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. Founded in 2006 it is the top global centre for higher executive learning in creative business. The school equips leaders from advertising, design, entertainment, marketing, media, publishing, technology and other sectors that call for creative leadership skills with the tools they need to turn visionary concepts into reality. See berlin-school.com

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