Recalling the displacement of former giants such as IBM and Marks Spencer by "upstarts" such as Microsoft and Next, John McCann, the SFEU's depute chief executive, said: "In essence, what it all means is that what you have is becoming less and less important than what you create."
As far as colleges are concerned, Mr McCann added: "More than ever before, traditional dominance and traditional ways of working are increasingly under threat from more adaptable, and faster-moving, competitors."
He suggests that one of the essential ingredients of being creative, thinking flexibly, is an area where FE has performed well. "Most practitioners in Scotland's colleges will be doing things now which they weren't doing even a few years ago. Thinking flexibly is exactly how we have managed to move so much in so short a time."
Marilyn Fryer, who heads the Leeds-based Creativity Centre, told the conference that creative education helps people cope with challenges "both positive and negative". It also eases the ability to manage uncertainty and change.
Graham Jeffery, who has been involved in leading "creative partnerships" with different organisations in London, suggested a key necessity was to help lecturers and learners develop an understanding of risk.
"That doesn't mean 'anything goes'," Mr Jeffery said. "An ethic of partnership and entrepreneurship is required, linked to vision and strategy.
"Learning to live on the edge and on boundaries: that is where creativity occurs."
Mr Jeffery, whose book The Creative College is published next year, reminded colleges that students need to have opportunities to be listened to and develop their own creative ideas - "and for those ideas to be valued and respected."
The conference also heard from an expert on social entrepreneurship that it must be part of the creative thinking landscape. Jackie Scutt, director of the newly-founded Social Enterprise Academy, saw colleges and others as having "a triple bottom line (of) social, environmental and economic profit".