Why imagination and creativity are primary value creators

Say goodbye to the Industrial Age. And to the Information Age as well. Here's what comes next: the Imagination Age.

For a while, we’ve written on this blog about the idea that the Industrial Age is over. This would have some serious consequences. In the long run at least, the industrial sector of our economies would then be marginalised, like agriculture was at the start of the Industrial Age. Where would our wealth come from? And what about the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Perhaps a misnomer?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is often described as the digital transformation, after the steam engine, electrical power and information technology shaped the first three revolutions. Others argue that with information technology we have already entered the Information Age. In this view, it was as early as with the Third Industrial Revolution that the Industrial Age ended, in the second half of the 20th century.

And the early 21st century would then be the beginning of the Imagination Age. This isn’t far from what David Mattin once described as augmented modernity. It is the age of creativity. Of imagination as the key mode of thinking, rather than knowledge work. Of social and emotional intelligence. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? However, could it be too good to be true?

Four ages of civilisation

Let’s sort out things a bit.

  • Civilisation started with the Agricultural Age. The main task was producing food. Most people worked in agriculture, as farmers.
  • The Industrial Age changed this picture dramatically. Now we got factories with machines producing commodities. The factory worker became the new norm. Products were physical goods.
  • In the Information Age, workers became clerks and moved to the office, doing knowledge work and using computers. Analysis and thinking were the main activities. Products became services.
  • And finally, the Imagination Age delegates knowledge work, thinking and analysis to the machines, leaving human workers with everything that can’t yet be automated: creativity, imagination (hence the name), social and emotional intelligence, to name a few.

Machines can be efficient, so that humans don’t need to be.

We’ve got a lot to do

In this view, each epoch (or age) has successfully applied new technology to old tasks. Agricultural tools allowed humanity to settle down and grow food, instead of hunting and gathering it. Industrial machines produced more output and reduced the need for agricultural work. Computers further automated the factory, work could shift from the assembly line to the office. And finally, office work gets automated. Clerks can now move out of the office, becoming digital nomads and creative artists (in theory at least). Studios are the new offices.

If all that’s true, we’ve got a lot to do. In some respects, we are still stuck in the Industrial Age. We teach our children in schools that are organised like factories. We structure our work after the models of Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor. Knowledge work and computer literacy are underweighted (but they belong to the Information Age anyway). Creativity, imagination, social and emotional intelligence are undervalued. All the fuss about new work is simply a derivative of the discrepancy between how we structure our world and our work today and how we create new value in the Imagination Age.

So what the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the digital transformation really are about is a seminal shift to creativity and imagination as primary creators of value. Now this a real new Renaissance.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash