Rita J. King is the co-founder of Science House, a future-focused consultancy in New York billed as a “cathedral to imagination.”
She is launching a learning platform called Model Meetings to teach us how to make essential improvements to an activity in which we spend much of our workdays. She’s partnering with Dr. Gabriel Silva at the University of California, San Diego, to launch a multidisciplinary lab focused on “applied imagination.”
When she thinks What the Future, she wants to understand how to build creativity directly into all aspects of our college education and beyond.
Matt Carmichael: Most Americans follow traditional ideals about college and its role in the American Dream. But there’s a falloff between the older and younger folks. What does that portend?
Rita J. King: Every system has its own hierarchy that develops over time, its own culture that develops over time. Academia is no different. Young people have been conditioned to believe that you get educated and then you enter the hierarchy and then your goal is to ascend in this hierarchy. But the hierarchy is not functional anymore, even intrinsically. Extrinsically, it’s really dysfunctional for the planet and the people who live on it.
Carmichael: Is a degree essential today?
King: A lot of our clients at Science House are CEOs for large global companies. They always try to hire people who have degrees. But what if a lot of the best coders, for example, don’t have degrees? On the other hand, there are many benefits to being immersed in an educational environment for four years. Many of those benefits don’t accrue until later. This is why I love humanities and liberal arts. You take a broad smattering of classes to see what might interest you that you didn’t know. There are huge benefits socially to getting educated. I would never argue against education, but what I am arguing for is lifelong learning.
Carmichael: Why is creativity so important?
King: Creativity is a very misunderstood concept. This is important because it happens to be the top skill employers say they’re looking for. Creativity is everywhere, and you can apply it to anything. The No. 1 thing that most large companies need to apply creativity to right now is eliminating the bureaucratic clutter that is keeping them from achieving the innovation that they all love to talk about.
Carmichael: How so?
King: Companies need to start applying creative thinking to improving their process flows, but that doesn’t seem glamorous, right? We think of creativity as belonging to a very small group of people. A few years ago, I went to an advertising conference in New York. Before anyone said a word, I knew exactly who the “creatives” were and who was on the “client side.” At the end of the day, their jobs are the same, ostensibly: to move whatever it is you’re selling. All of you have an obligation to be creative regardless of what your niche in the overall output is.
Carmichael: Certificate and skills programs are ways to add to your education throughout your career. How do you bake creativity into that sort of education?
King: Model Meetings certifies you in the skill of applying creativity to the way you use your time at work. It’s a flywheel and the course teaches you how to engage in that flywheel to align people and purpose for better results and less stress. Creativity is a process. It’s not some natural fairy dust that some people are born with and some people aren’t. Everyone can improve their creativity. It’s absolutely a learnable skill.
Carmichael: Obviously a lot of schools had to go virtual this year. Do you think hybridized education will continue?
King: Hybridization of education and work is something I’ve been studying since 2002 or so because we needed to advance hybridization at a much more rapid clip. Virtual worlds offer incredible opportunities for really deep, experiential education. Then the pandemic comes along, and everybody is scrambling to figure out how to educate children via Zoom. A lot of the children don’t even have laptops at home. It’ll take years before we really understand the consequences of the division between who was properly educated during the pandemic and who was not.
Carmichael: Does that widen or close diversity and inclusion gaps at the college level?
King: When you’re in-person, it creates a lot of opportunities for cliquishness. There are benefits to that, but there are a lot of drawbacks. Hybridization offers a chance for people to be included on their contributions, not on whether they fit the stereotype of what a successful person is supposed to look and act like.
Carmichael: But isn’t part of the value of an undergrad education the connection to a community? Those bonds are a lot easier to forge in-person than online only.
King: I’m not arguing against the necessity for in-person interactions, but I would challenge us also to think about what does that mean to be for four years in a group of people who are mostly in your own age bracket, right? The only interactions you have with people who aren’t in your age bracket are either family members or professors. Right now, we have an opportunity to rethink what that should look like instead of just reacting.