What does it take to innovate?

Recently, Bloomberg released their 2017 rankings of the world’s most innovative economies. Bloomberg ranks regional economies based on their scores in seven different areas, including research and development, and the number of high-tech public companies based in the region.

According to their findings, the United States has dropped out of the top ten for the first time in six years, landing in 11th place. Falling from 9th place in 2016, the US lost ground mainly in its score in the education-efficiency category, which has to do with how many science and engineering graduates are available in the job market. Although the US had made improvements in productivity, it was not enough to compensate for losses in other scoring areas. 

The demand for STEM graduates in the job market leads many to conclude that the logical solution is to push students toward degree programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But the answer is more complicated than emphasizing these subjects in K12 schools or counseling more college students into STEM degree programs and careers. One must look no further than the American tech giant, Google, for proof that the solutions to our innovation problems are complex. 

As part of their own internal research into the skills that lead to employee success, Google discovered that the traditional tech skills they predicted to find were not the skills that were most valuable to their employee’s success at work. Instead, they found that the top seven characteristics of their highest performoring employees are the following:

  1. Being a good coach
  2. Communicating and listening well
  3. Possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view)
  4. Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues
  5. Being a good critical thinker and problem solver
  6. Ability to make connections across complex ideas

These aren’t the hard skills that are top of mind when many people think about STEM skills, but they are the “soft skills” that can be developed across a variety of academic and fine arts domains. Findings like these further bolster the argument for the Arts in STEAM education programs since the arts promote ways of thinking that include making connections, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, communicating, and listening. (For more information read the National Art Education Association’s position statement HERE). 

Therefore, an engineering degree can be valuable in the job marketplace, but so can that art degree–it’s all about how you think.