Creative industries must lead way on the four-day week before it's too late
A view from Omar Oakes

Creative industries must lead way on the four-day week before it's too late

The pace of technological change means that lifelong learning and retraining will become the norm. Can you afford not to embrace that now?

Something caught my eye this week in Edinburgh, of all places: a news story about a Michelin-starred restaurant that is moving to a four-day working week.

Paul Kitching, the chef and owner of 21212, said the move was designed to "fuel the creative flair" of his team. "We are about constant innovation… the creativity needed for this is incredibly important," he told The Scotsman.

Kitching should bring this message down to London, where our creative industries are not immune from the uncomfortable truth facing everyone today: our jobs are not safe.

A computer will able to do what you do one day – or at least a significant part of what makes you valuable for the time being. I suspect yours truly could soon enough be replaced by Ziggy, the lovable robo-journalist who can write 100,000 words a day about technology and have the courage to finally write that best-selling novel.

It's the constantly changing economy, stupid

Joseph Schumpeter called this phenomenon "creative destruction", but the sheer speed of technological change today means that, paradoxically, we need to slow down doing what we've always done. This isn't like the industrial revolution, when it took years for heavy machines to replace manual labourers. It’s not even like the late 20th Century, when computers were phased into offices. 

Now, technological change is happening so quickly that you may not even know what skills you’ll need in five years' time to remain a productive member of the workforce.

I touched on this in an earlier column, when I complained about the ad industry failing to embrace artificial intelligence (or at least compared with how much they love creating campaigns that make AI the subject of cheap laughs).

I understand; it’s not your fault. We’re all a product of an education system, forged in Victorian times, that has woefully underprepared us for a life of constantly adapting to emerging technologies, new culture and progressive ideas. 

The answer, surely, is to make lifelong learning the norm. If the goalposts are constantly moving, shouldn’t we at least be given the chance to learn how to kick the ball differently?

Fighting speed with space

Creative agencies, which are magnets for free-thinking and innovative people, should take the lead in encouraging people to be constantly upgrading their brain software and becoming more entrepreneurial with how to apply what they've learned.

Put it this way: how many university graduates today will have to invent and reinvent their career because all the traditional jobs are being automated?

There are plenty of studies that show how productivity isn’t lost when moving to a four-day week. And it’s finally become culturally acceptable for people to do four days in pursuit of a work/life balance.

But I’m talking about something more fundamental: a working culture that values "getting thinking done" as much as "getting shit done". Because we’re no longer in a knowledge economy. We’re in an ideas economy in which people need to come up with a plan for how to make the best of technology and new ideas, instead of getting blindsided by not being equipped to do "the next big thing". 

Whether it's spending one day a week learning how to write code, or how blockchain works, or how to do stand-up comedy – the very act of learning and looking for new ideas is something everybody needs to get in the habit of doing.

Because if the creative industries can’t get their act together and institute a proper space for all of us to retrain, reskill and reinvent ourselves, what hope does anyone else have?

Omar Oakes is global technology editor at Campaign