Creating an Economy of Creativity

There is a lot of talk, writing – and even the beginnings of policy development – around the role of creatives in our 21st Century knowledge-based economy. Readers of my blog know that I’ve been on the creative-cultural bandwagon, advocating creatives as a large and encompassing economic sector with a lot more clout that our current splintered arts and cultural community. Getting there, however, requires an understanding of creatives, and out of that understanding it requires a method of expanding the economy of creativity.

We’ve fallen down on describing creatives, I believe, and revert to an and arts-crafts construct of jobs. Creatives are too often thought of as artists who work in the for profit sector while artists are those who create in the nonprofit sector, a la the Richard Florida descriptions of the creative class from a decade ago. It was great break through thinking, but is still too narrow to build a value system that, in turn, fuels the economy.

So let’s dig into this for a few moments. What are creative jobs? What is the creative workforce everyone wants? If we can appropriately create understanding around the fullness of creative occupations, we are further on our way to creating a viable economic sector.

Yes, creatives are artists and designers and related professionals trained in creative methodology. But I’ll put forward that the largest portion of the creatives field are the knowledge makers who solve problems and identify new products through creative thinking. Creative thinking is a talent and a skill that can be taught and exercised, focused and directed. It is fueled by presence of other creatives, creativity, and exposure to the creative process. This is why communities rich in creatives get progressively more exciting in their knowledge-based outputs, and why everything from learning arts in school to wandering through a museum collection to soak in the aesthetic of hundreds of creative perspectives matter in fostering innovation.

I was interested that President Obama was in Silicon Valley last week to talk about innovation, calling for more innovators to fuel our economy. I think he (and we as a society) are all using the wrong language. Instead of calling for more innovation, he should have called for more creativity. Innovation is an outcome – not the root of – of creative thinking and creative problem solving. Always, creativity is the spark, the “I see this in a different way” that leads to and shapes the capacity of innovation. Our society seems to like the word innovation because it suggests a mathematical-scientific process or formula that can be captured and transfered to others. But without the creativity that is at the heart of innovation, there is nothing. Creativity is not a formula. It is a process, a way of thought.

We are societally unlikely to immediately accept and praise creativity as the engine of innovation – especially when economic and political rhetoric alike are prone to pit the cause of science -“wise investment” – against that of creativity – “we simply can’t afford it.” But imagine if we very, very broadly marketed and lobbied and changed thinking so that over time – five years, say – the American public becomes tuned to and “gets” the creativity-innovation partnership. That parents who want their children to grow into careers as scientific researchers or in management realize their kids must be well trained in creativity as a way of thinking and problem solving. That there is a broad spectrum of “creative jobs” – and that perhaps the majority of creative jobs are those that rely upon the talents and skills of creativity to do work that fits into entirely different job types or classifications. That there is a financial, economic value placed on the proven skill of creativity (not just on innovation) so that America wants to “race to the top” as a creative economy.

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15 responses to “Creating an Economy of Creativity

  1. Your post resonated with me in a big way!
    In a recent post entitled, Innovation=Creative Expression, I suggested that ‘a sustained creative practice, broadly defined, promotes the fluidity of ideas that is integral to innovation….Because without creative expression, only the status quo remains’.

    http://thecreativepractice.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/innovation-creative-expression/

    I look forward to learning more about your pov, and, more specifically, your thoughts about the ways in which we can expand the dialogue around the ‘creativity-innovation partnership’.

  2. Ken Tabachnick

    Great comments. On a similar note, I have been offering periodic comments, most recently at the New York Academy of Science, on the critical nature of creativity and how it is not limited to artists (being that I oversee an arts college). They can be found at: Comments at Kick-off Meeting of SUNY and Creativity.

  3. While I agree that creativity is a process and innovation is a product, I disagree with the conclusion. Creative processes often go nowhere, and frequently do not lead to innovation. This won’t do us any good. I think the President’ point was that we need to be creative, but it has to lead to actual innovation, rather than just exist for its own sake.

    Another aspect of creative thinking is freedom to explore creative notions and to see what can develop into innovation. The sad irony is that a lot of arts organizations (including the one I work for) are so capricious and micro-managed that creativity among the staff is stifled, which can paradoxically lead to a dearth of creativity in the non-profit arts sector.

    • Ike, I agree. There needs to be more emphasis on the connectivity between creativity and innovation. I don’t think that the connective tissue, if you will, has been addressed enough.

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  5. Louise – well said – I completely agree with your thoughts on the difference between innovation and creativity. But creativity tends to be seen only as the preserve of the arts and cultural sector so there’s a major re-frame required – thanks for prompting more thinking on my part! (I’ve linked to your post on my own blog also).

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  8. Stimulating blog post, Louise.

    My industry is theater and performance-based art. And it seems that this sector is flourishing despite all of the prophecies of doom that have been made for at least 40 years in the States. Artists are continuing to innovate, create, and contribute economically to the world, both domestically and abroad.

    And this is not only true of theater, but also of every arts discipline. Yes, some of the older models of creation (such as the music industry) is radically changing. But that also has lead to remarkable strides in innovation, entrepreneurism, and a whole new way of interactivity. More people are listening to more music now than every before. Isn´t that an innovation? A sign that we value creativity?

    I guess it depends on the kinds of questions one asks. How would you measure American society valuing creativity in the proper way? When would you know it would happen? This might be helpful to contemplate, so that others such as myself could understand what actions we could take in our communities (locally, globally) to make this happen.

    Best,

    Brendan McCall
    Founder & Artistic Director
    Ensemble Free Theater Norway

    • Stimulating questions, Brendan, and thanks for contributing from Norway! How does America value creativity? Interesting question given that about six hours ago the President of the United States signed the first two week continuing budget resolution, a set of budget cuts ($4 billion US) which includes cutting the Department of Education program that funds models for K-12 arts curricula and professional development in arts education. (Also ended in this first of what may be many slow and steady cuts is Very Special Arts, the program administered by the Kennedy Center.) Do the cuts mean there is little value for arts education within the Federal DoE? Or, does it mean that current DoE approaches to stimulating arts learning (and thus, perhaps, appreciation for creativity as a central across learning) is not producing desired results? Hard to know if this is a telling signal of a US lack of value for creativity, or simply the fate of being among the first items on the budget chopping block…

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  10. Hi Louise,

    Your blog also resonated with me, having just started a business representing independent creatives in graphic & web design.

    In addition, I have been a big supporter of Artworks at my son’s elementary school in Bozeman, Montana to help fund keeping art in the school. I would love to share this article with them, to help continuing to fuel the fire of determination of success for this fundraiser. The fundraiser consists of the children re-purposing furniture, recyclables and non-recyclables into art to be auctioned off in May. They have done a fantastic job raising money, and spreading their creative talents around our valley.

    I recently read a post on Facebook which sums it up perfectly, “During the Second World War, Winston Churchill’s finance minister said Britain should cut arts funding to support the war effort. Churchill’s response: “Then what are we fighting for?”

    Keep fighting for art, it is the path to innovation!
    Courtney
    Founder CREWcreatives.com & Fresh Squeezed Glass, functional recycled glass art

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  12. Great article, I completely agree. Our culture as a whole needs creative thinking from top to bottom. You are correct in your assessment that we cannot have innovation without creativity, and if our recent economic shortcomings have taught us anything, it’s that we can all stand to think more creatively and more worldly.

    It is no longer sufficient for workers in any sector to maintain a “heads down” mentality and expect to enjoy any long-term success. While we all don’t need to be literary scholars, we do need literacy. We don’t all need to be mathematicians, but we need applicable math skills. While we don’t all need to be creative entrepreneurs, we could all stand to use personal creativity to better understand our positions in a changing economy and address complex issues. We can all use our experiences and motivation to creative ends to drive a healthier economy.

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