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Creative Workers: Types of working and learning

Sai Loo

The fear of high unemployment resulting from the increasing encroachment of digital technologies in people’s working lives is a topical debate. One group of workers that may be immune to this development is the creative knowledge workers. They have a complex combination of skill sets or ‘creative knowledge work (ckw) capacities’, which is applied towards the eventual production of products and services. They are the drivers of innovation and this creativity lies at the epicentre of the digital or knowledge economy.

Basing on the empirical research of two industries – advertising and information technology software – and from three developed countries – England, Japan and Singapore – this blog offers insights into the micro working and learning of these creative workers from the jobs of copywriting and creative directing (advertising), and software programming and systems programme managing (IT software) (Loo, 2017).

Three approaches of creative working were identified – intra- and inter-sectoral and influences of workers on the culture and practices – where their ckw capacities include creativity (e.g. anticipatory imagination, problem seeking, problem solving, generating ideas and aesthetic sensibilities), abilities, talents and skills (e.g. passion, honesty, team working, interpersonal skills and leadership skills) and knowledge (of various disciplines and technical-related and explicit and tacit for individual and collaborative working) are applied.

they need to be curious, questioning, be able to capture the zeitgeist

From an intra-sectoral perspective, creative directors in advertising agencies with responsibilities for creating advertising campaigns use terms like ‘in tune with the current zeitgeist’ and ‘to be a general sponge’ to describe how they need to be alert to possibilities and use the knowledge to keep trying to be different, to push the boundaries and the limits of a medium like the internet. In addition, they need to be curious, questioning, be able to capture the zeitgeist by reading, listening to music, accessing other forms of the arts and culture, and observing the milieu of everyday life and events.

From an intra-sectoral perspective, one example relates to the use of IT software to other sectors, as recounted by a Managing Director in a software company in Singapore (Loo, 2017, p. 109):

So the use of IT [software] is not the be all and end all but a way of doing business, like a bank…The data in companies is static like personnel data and you need [software] tools to perform analysis such as ‘information scanning’ with other databases such as emails in order to extract useful information.

From the perspectives of changing the work cultures, creative workers in the advertising sector mentioned terms such as ‘three-dimensional trust’, ‘potency’ and ‘golden thread’ to illustrate how these notions are applied and that they had an effect on its practices. Similarly, ‘power of expression’ was used in the IT software sector to illustrate the aesthetic beauty of a software programme such as a video game and that this practice might be taken up by other gaming software developers.

How these creative workers apply their creativity, dispositions and knowledge are related to how they learn. They may be viewed as lifelong learners where forms of formal education may be required to access and acquire disciplinary knowledge in the technical areas, alongside mathematics, computer sciences, physical sciences, psychology, the humanities and the creative arts depending on their roles and functions of creative work. Other identified ckw capacities such as problem seeking and solving, confidence, strategizing and collaborative working also offer challenges for formalised learning. These forms of learning might have implications for teaching institutions such as the higher education and professional-related institutions. The term ‘externalizing’ is used to refer to non-traditional curricula that support these creative workers to make the transition between knowledge acquisition and its application. They include exchange programmes, research projects and virtual classrooms.

In the case of informal learning, there are other platforms to acquire the ckw capacities and they may include films, museums, theatres, music, art festivals (e.g. literature, poetry and art), outdoor pursuits and cultural internet sites. These activities may be supported by parents, families and friends. These activities can occur throughout the lives of these workers and in work settings.

The complex mix of knowledge, dispositions and skills base for creative workers has implications for individual and collective learners, organisations (teaching and work-related) and especially for policy makers. These workers require a society with a diverse cultural environment and a supportive advanced technology-based infrastructure for them to carry out their innovative activities in order to sustain a vibrant economy.

 

Reference

Loo, S. (2017). Creative Working in the Knowledge Economy. Abingdon: Routledge