Music, Creativity, and the 21st Century Workforce
Written by John Gerdy

In our increasingly fast-paced, interconnected global economy, and world community, every issue we face is becoming more complex. Whether these issues are local or global and regardless of whether they relate to health care, the environment, governance, poverty, science, technology, or international relations, the challenges we face in this increasingly interconnected and multilayered world are becoming more complicated. That being the case, the only way to effectively address these increasingly complex issues is to develop in our populace, a corresponding increase in creativity. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, if we are to solve the problems we have created, we must think at a higher level than when we created them.


John Kao, in his book Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, sums up the notion of the importance of creativity in the business world: “This is the age of creativity because companies are increasingly obliged to rapidly reinvent themselves to achieve growth.” (Kao, 1996, p. 10)


He elaborates further:


All this is risky. Unavoidably so. When the alto sax player starts a solo, he doesn’t know where he is going, let alone how far and for how long. His inner voice to which the music, other players, the setting, and even the listeners contribute-directs him. That’s the nature of improvisation, and companies that aren’t willing to take risks are not long for this fluid, protean, constantly changing world. Companies that shun creative risks may be undercut by competitors not only with better products and services, but also with better processes and ways of perceiving new opportunities. Escaping the stagnation of the status quo, of the risk-free life, is part of the exhilaration of jamming-in music and in business. The choice is stark. Create or fail. (Kao, pp. xix, xx)


That being the case, a major focus of our education system must be on instilling in the populace a greater sense of, and capacity for, creativity. A creative mindset is not something that you either have or don’t have. Creativity can be developed and nurtured. Kao concurs: “Like jazz, creativity has its vocabulary and conventions. As in jazz, too, its paradoxes can create tension. It demands free expressiveness and disciplined self-control, solitude in a crowded room, acceptance and defiance, serendipity and direction. And like jazz, creativity is a process, not a thing; and therefore you can observe, analyze, understand, replicate, teach, and, yes, even manage it.” (Kao, 1996, p. xix)


In short, people who are never encouraged to “think outside the box” will not be inclined to do so. Similarly, nurturing creativity requires the courage to question pre-existing assumptions and models. If children are never challenged to “break the mold” or question existing paradigms, they won’t.


If the development of a creative workforce is key to our nation’s future economic, scientific and geopolitical success, then educational and community leaders must consider which subjects and activities are best suited for encouraging and developing the creative potential of students. And by all indications, the most effective tool in our educational arsenal to teach creativity is music. If that is the case, why is it that when school budget cuts are necessary, music is often one of the first activities to be cut?


Clearly, we must, in the spirit of Albert Einstein, begin to think at a higher level when it comes to school funding and program priorities.