The 21st century.

The world is changing at an exponentially fast rate. For several millennia we were in the agricultural age, then the industrial age for two centuries, then the service age for about two or three decades, then the information age for about decade and now the communication age is eminently going to change. The only certainty is the change is going to happen faster and faster. 

What has that got to do with creativity and discipline? Well, technology and innovation will be making human labour increasingly redundant. For example, Tesla corporations self-driving technology could render over a million driving jobs in the UK redundant in a few short years. German innovation has lead to many companies making flat-pack modular homes that are built in factories and then put up in days. It will not be long until, just like cars, houses will be made in factories by robots. This combined with bricklaying robots (already in use) we could see massive construction redundancies within the decade. And it is not just transport and construction, even white collar professions are at risk, for example there are now contract law software programmes that are making both solicitors and legal secretaries redundant in that area. Automation and intuitive software will replace human labour to some degree across the majority of industries. The point is our children’s skill sets will need to be different to ours to prepare them for a different future. Our children’s lively hoods are much more likely to depend on people skills, problem solving and creativity. So let’s talk a little about creativity and discipline.

Free spirits and creativity

Most people associate creativity with “free spirits” we tend to imagine creative people as hippies who shun structure and discipline but is that the case? The actuality is creativity requires discipline, otherwise, ideas will stay just ideas and will never become a reality. Think about great creative works across various fields:

Did Ed Sheerin just pick up a guitar and start singing perfectly? In an interview with Jonathan Ross, he demonstrated that had not been the case at all. More so Ed writes prolifically, he wrote over 120 songs for his album then cut them down to 16 that make the album. While we think of Ed as a creative genius, the reality is honing his skills and crafting his art form required incredible dedication and discipline.

J.K Rowling got the entire world reading with the Harry Potter series. But Harry Potter was not written in a few months, or even year. It took five years to write the first book and plan out the rest. Think for a moment about the discipline that it would take to work on a project so tirelessly and for so long. Rowling herself tweeted about this.

The discipline involved in finishing a piece of creative work is something on which you can truly pride yourself.

Look at any masterpiece painting. While there may be creative genius behind the conceptual idea, there must equally be mastery in the execution of composition and brush strokes. It requires mastery, craft, and patience all of which requires great self-discipline.

And creativity is not just about art. Creativity is a key to business success too. Steve Jobs changed our world by leading Apple to make innovations such as iTunes which launched the download culture for music and eventually TV and movies, and of course the iPhone; the very first smartphone. Not to mention the very first tablet, and the first commercially viable voice recognition software;“Siri” and many other innovations. This creative thinking took Apple from a struggling has-been company to become the market leader and revolutionary innovator is it today, but was it just creative thinking?

“What did Jobs first do to get Apple back on track? Not the iPod, not iTunes, not the iPhone, not the iPad. First, he increased discipline. That’s right, discipline, for without discipline there’d be no chance to do creative work. He brought in Tim Cook, a world-class supply chain expert, and together Jobs and Cook formed a perfect yin-yang team of creativity and discipline. They cut perks, stopped funding the corporate sabbatical program, improved operating efficiency, lowered overall cost structure, and got people focused on the intense ‘work all day and all of the night’ ethos that’d characterized Apple in its early years. Overhead costs fell. The cash-to-current-liabilities doubled, and then tripled. Long-term debt shrunk by two thirds and the ratio of total liabilities to shareholders’ equity dropped by more than half from 1998 to 1999. Now, you might be thinking, ‘Well, all that financial improvement naturally follows breakthrough innovation.’ But in fact, Apple did all this before the iPod, iTunes, or the iPhone. Anything that didn’t help the company get back to creating great products that people loved would be tossed, cut, slashed, and ruthlessly eliminated.”

Two kinds of discipline.

As discussed early, conventionally, we think of discipline as following the rules, and creativity as breaking away from the status quo. But the reality is rather than creativity and discipline being at odds with each other discipline is the necessary character trait to enable creativity to manifest into reality.

This disparity between these two schools of thought is the result of there actually being two kinds of discipline: Externally enforced discipline and self-discipline. Externally enforced discipline is the ability to follow the rules and self-discipline is the ability to will yourself to do difficult things, sometimes in the absence of short-term motivation.

Discipline muscle

The first challenge is that discipline is like a muscle, and muscles grow relatively slowly. If an un-disciplined person has a creative idea they will rarely be able to follow it through, as they don’t have the discipline muscle. This is just like asking someone who has never lifted weights to bench press 220lb they are unlikely to be able to do it. But for someone who has slowly but surely been building up their muscle for years, the bench press is a piece of cake.

What comes first

Here is the second challenge: Self-discipline almost never develops entirely on its own, especially in children. The reality is that children need the example of externally enforced discipline before they can develop self-discipline. Children need rules; they need to learn what is acceptable behaviour and most importantly children need to be pushed so they will learn the value of long-term effort and reward.

I could cite numerous studies on how children lack long-term vision. Young children will choose one sweet right now, rather than two sweets later, in karate they choose to come up in stance because it is easy rather than pushing down because it hurts. In short, they choose the easy path whenever they are allowed to. The challenge is discipline is a muscle that grows slowly. So they must be externally disciplined and pushed to persist. And then, sometimes years later, when that investment pays off in having skills that they now appreciate; they will think “I am glad my parents pushed me to continue, I am glad my senseis and teachers disciplined me to work”. And through this process of learning to appreciate the long-term development of skills, they will have learned to push themselves and they will develop self-discipline and long-term vision as a result of what initially started as externally enforced discipline.

Have balance, don’t be too oppressive.

If external discipline is applied in an oppressive way, where the disciplinarian doesn’t explain the long-term vision and benefits of the course of action and instead focuses on punishing a child for non compliance, over the long term the child’s will may be broken. This crushes creative thinking, they will stop asking questions and become an automaton who complies out of fear and habit. It also does not develop self-discipline, rather it develop’s unquestioning obedience, which is a trait which will often be taken advantage of later in life by unscrupulous managers and employers.

In the 21st century there will be an exponentially decreasing need for employees who only do what they are told (the labour market will be flooded with them as automation and intuitive software will have drastically reduced the need for them). The employees who will be valuable will be those who take initiative but more crucially think out side of the box and solve problems.

While we need to be cautions in being too oppressive it is not to say you shouldn’t punish your child. But make sure you focus on positive motivation to push your child long before resorting to fear and punishment.

Too little

I have met many parents who have taken this to the other extreme. They say things like ”I am not going to make my child do anything they don’t want to do.” When I hear this, I think “So you are not going to make them eat their vegetable or get an education?” As we have already established, children lack long-term vision and resultantly will take the easy path whenever given a choice. Any good parent must lead and in many circumstances push their child to make good long-term decisions.

Life is full of tasks we don’t want to have to do, and if you want to be successful in any field, you will need to be prepared to take on difficult tasks that most other people are not prepared to take on. That, of course, requires self-discipline, a muscle that starts to build with externally enforced discipline in childhood.

Karate Helps

In a world where there are increasingly more distractions and more enticing leisure options most of which come at the push of a button, developing self-discipline and being self-disciplined is becoming harder and harder and as a result rarer and rarer in the younger generation. Yet, as discussed, self discipline is an essential facilitator of creativity which is a key skill in the 21st century.

This is of course why activities like Shinkyu karate that not just teach a practical skill, but also teach long-term vision in achieving goals like becoming a black belt are so crucial for a child.

Karate is of-course an art which is famous for developing self-discipline and self-mastery. The precise movements and focus that performing kata demands will build self-discipline muscles.

Sparring is of course incredibly strategic and amongst loads of other character building lessons sparring helps develop problem-solving and strategic thinking.