Preparing the creative industry for the future of work

Rob Stokes

How do you prepare the current generation of advertising and marketing students for a world in which artificial intelligence and robots threaten their future careers and jobs? By teaching them to be more human.

Every industry is facing disruption – from the financial industry with blockchain, to travel with Airbnb and transport with Uber and self-driving cars. Forecasters predict that everyone from actuaries to journalists will be made redundant or partially so, with artificial intelligence and bots. The speed at which disruptor brands and new technologies are upending the status quo and destroying or denting established brands and industries is mind blowing.

Future proofing jobs and careers is something everyone should be concerned about. To this end the Red & Yellow School of Logic and Magic, an institution in Cape Town’s advertising industry having been founded 23 years ago by industry icons Brian Searle-Tripp and Bob Rightford, is repurposing itself as the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business.

The Red & Yellow School of advertising was bought by Quirk Education, well-known for its digital marketing online courses, in 2013. Quirk digital agency and offshoot Quirk Education were founded by digital entrepreneur Rob Stokes, who is now chairman of Red & Yellow and chairman of Mirum Agency (formerly Quirk).

While the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business, situated in Salt River, Cape Town, will retain its niche positioning in the marketing communications industry with its diplomas, certificates and degree courses in marketing and advertising disciplines, it will add new courses and executive education short courses to transition from the “school of creativity” to the “creative school of business”, officially on 1 July 2017.

Educational activism

The whole reason for this evolutionary transformation is the new thinking needed around education today, says Stokes, who sees what they are doing as ‘educational activism’. In a nutshell, they need to prepare humans for the jobs that robots can’t do in a future that will be fundamentally disrupted by technology, the beginning of which is happening already from new disruptor brands and services, across industries.

“We are now a business school that believes the most important skill of the future is creative thinking. The core skill that we need to teach people is how to think creativity: the pillars of creative thinking. Design thinking is incredible at solving problems, but what about the non-defined problems? We want to teach people to question the world, question the status quo.”

“I want to give people the confidence and self-awareness to know the best way of doing things, the confidence to be the one to make the change needed,” Stokes emphasises.

They want to turn out students that have the skills and logic to do a great job, but then from a more human perspective, are self-aware enough to change the status quo, to have empathy, intuition, and the ability to approach a problem that doesn’t give them the expected solution.

“So many of our business interactions are about presupposing solutions onto people. We need empathy to drive solutions,” Stokes adds.

The new executive leadership programme which has launched already comprises intensive two-day courses run by leaders in the field and expert trainers on everything from robotics to artificial intelligence in business. The unique subject matter has already created interest in the business sector.

Disrupt tradition

The philosophy that Red & Yellow has embraced is to be unique. There will, for example, be no white cups and the usual supermarket shortbread biscuit platters on offer at the workshops during break time. But rather gourmet burgers and colourful cups. It may be a small thing, but it demonstrates the school’s new philosophy in trying to disrupt the traditional mould of education and executive training.

Stokes outlines the kind of student they hope to attract with the brand repositioning: “We want the undergrad that sees the value of being in business, but is also possibly more technology savvy and embraces a world full of technology and wants to take a different path. We are not a business school for normal people. It’s not a normal world.

“The qualification we want students to walk away with is a state of mind that can question things. That curiosity, innovation happens at the coalface. It is where the private sector is weak on teaching.”

While Red & Yellow will still keep its DNA as a marketing and advertising college, marketing will now be in one of four facilities centred on the premise that creative thinking is the most important skill of the future:

  1. Marketing Faculty: will teach marketing in every format – advertising, strategy, innovation, and so on.
  2. Management Studies: it will include leadership, strategy, negotiation, finance, accounting, HR – all the industries being disrupted.
  3. Human Studies: it will be a cross over with Management Studies, but leadership with a different point of view – including intuition, persuasion science, empathy, mindfulness in the workplace. Basically uniquely human abilities that AI and robots are highly unlikely to get right and where humans will still have a role in the future workplace.
  4. Creative/Production: including current courses in copywriting, web development, photography, production – but with the creative thinking thread running through it all.

They are targeting from undergraduates to executives with three delivery formats: short courses, full-time undergraduate courses (degrees and diplomas) on campus, and corporate training off campus. They also have a policy of funding 10 per cent of students who can’t afford to pay, to ensure that talent has equal opportunity.

“I want to create entrepreneurs, I want to create innovators. I want to teach children things that will give them a career. The commercial logic is to grow successful organisations, but more important is the creative magic to set them apart. We need to teach problem solving skills and leadership from a unique point of view. We will see whole courses on empathy and persuasion skills in the future, for example.

“Creative thinking was applied to marketing, now we are applying it to everything, to business,” as Stokes reiterates. “Let’s produce great people and change the world through education!”

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Louise Marsland
Louise Marsland is an editor, journalist and columnist in the media and marketing communications industry in South Africa, who has been writing about the industry for over two decades as a former editor of publications: AdVantage, Marketing Mix and She currently writes extensively about industry trends and consumer insight.


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