Tag Archives: innovation

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.

Reinventing America’s Cultural Support System

Imagine for a moment that the current tumult over federal and state funding for culture led to the opportunity to pause and thoughtfully reinvent a viable public support system. A silver lining to the dark cloud, if you will.

Would it look like the support systems and amalgamation of agencies our country invented – one piece at a time, over a half century ago? Chances are, not at all.

Anyone looking for good thinking about a new type of cultural system would do well to read Culture and Creativity in the EU Structure, a report that came out last September. It studies EU investment in culture over the past decade and makes a solid case for what it calls “a focused, flexible and integrated culture-based development
strategy” throughout communities and regions of the EU.

At its foundation for examining the value of investing in culture, the analysis uses the tri-part definition that the EU Cultural System has employed since 2006:

Core Arts Areas: Performing and visual arts, cultural and architectural heritage, and literature.
Cultural Industries: Film, DVD and Video, TV and Radio, Video games, New media, music, books, and press.
Creative Industries:Those industries that use culture as input but whose outputs are mainly functional, including architecture, advertising, design, and fashion.

Both the Cultural and Creative Industries are further defined as “Those industries that have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the creation and exploitation of intellectual property.”

In a few simple lines, this glues together all the splinters across arts, heritage, history, and combines non-profits and for-profit industries. Wouldn’t it be great if our cultural system was as straightforward and inclusive as this?

By taking this holistic view, the report (an outgrowth of a policy group brought together in Brussels in 2009), was able to examine both the traditional impacts of core areas – tourism and related economic value of attending and participating in arts and culture – and contributions to a larger economic future. The report points to the “the rich and dynamic contribution” that all three of the above areas make to the knowledge economy and innovation, and to employment creation and social cohesion. In policy, the EU is unafraid to talk about supporting creative entrepreneurs at the same time as supporting traditional institutions. They have equally important roles worthy of investment, and the report notes that even in the past two to three years, the ROI on supporting culture and creativity as drivers of broad innovation has been well documented and demonstrated.

It is in this area of arguing for investment in culture as an economic driver of wide ranging knowledge-based industries that the EU has come the furthest in making a case for a comprehensive approach to culture and creativity. According to the report, “Culture-based creativity is an essential feature of a post-industrial economy. Culture drives technological and non-technological innovation, stimulates research and optimizes the application of human resources in the development of new products and services.” Basically, it makes a coherent case that the knowledge-based economic system cannot thrive without a healthy cultural-creative capacity.

How refreshing. How non-defensive. Imagine if we could restructure, reinvent, and optimize our investments in America’s cultural-creative system along similar lines. Imagine if we could go beyond the economic impact studies we rely on so heavily to make our case. (Per the report, a research institute in the UK that focuses on the nature of innovation has documented the supply chain linkages between artistic and creative activities, demonstrating positive relations to innovation and showing that creativity and culture “play an important role in the ecology of innovation.”) We could and should do the same.

Imagine, too, if like the EU we recognized that artists are important leaders in demonstrating entrepreneurship and small business development. The report writes that “The creative sector makes many of these processes evident and communicates the positive attitudes, the excitement and the vision that provide the motivation for entrepreneurs.” Rather than seeing the arts community as off to the side of entrepreneurialism and small business development, the EU is increasingly putting artist out ahead as models to others.

Now let’s be totally honest. Culture is not all rosy in the EU. A great deal of what the EU has attempted in what it calls “social cohesion” through culture has failed to live up to expectations. Some, including most recently the President of France, say it has failed completely.

That said, there is much to consider if we in the United States were to advance our system of cultural support and related advocacy for investment as has the EU in its support of the three part cultural system and the related recognition of both culture and creativity as central to innovation. We hear a lot these days about “invest in clean energy” or “invest in new technology.” Wouldn’t it be great if we could similarly talk about America’s investment in culture and creativity? We could, and should. The first step is to reinvent our cultural support systems and structures, and bring the field together around a new vision and expanded purpose.
Culture and Creativity in the EU Structure

Fight Stress: Practice Creativity

One of my favorite (new) LinkedIn network groups is SOAR! Rise Above, Grow Beyond. I recently got drawn into a discussion there about how to de-stress, and it led me to contemplate that for so many in the arts world as everywhere, stress has become so intense that is has almost eaten up the very soul of our love and our field – our art. So I was reminded, in that SOAR! dialogue, of what we all need to do. We need to remember that we are creative, and we need to devote a portion of our time every day, every week, to create. That’s all of us, not only the artists among us.

Think of the word itself – to create, from creation, re-creation, to re-create. There is more to (re) creation than working out to recreate our bodies and minds. Creation is a sacred process that strengthens our central ability to de-stress. Yet, while we are a people are very comfortable with talking about recreation – go to the gym, take a hike, ride a bike – we are not comfortable talking about creation. Creation, our central strength, is missing from our public selves.

But especially during times of stress, in our most creativity-centered of all industries – we must remember to strengthen our ability to innovate and lead through creativity.

Paint. Compose. Write a poem today. Sing. Play the piano. (Today is Chopin’s birthday and I plan to carve out a few hours of time alone at the piano to refuel my soul through some of that glorious music.) Write a book even if you never plan to be a published author. Paint a room or a watercolor. Read a play out loud, as though on stage. (No one needs to listen!) Take your camera into the outdoors and see nature’s creativity through the lens. Go get some clay, and a potter’s wheel, set them up in your basement, and start throwing pots. Become a metal sculptor! Creativity rebuilds, refocuses, reconnects us to all. Creativity is easy to lose, easy to think we lack, especially when surrounded by technology and a world of worry and red ink. But without creativity, there is no problem solving, no innovation, no break through clarity, no new ways of seeing.

A cherished book on my bookshelf is “Trust the Process: An Artists Guide to Letting Go” By Shaun McNiff (1998, Shambhala Publications, USA). If you can find it, buy it, and be inspired.

McNiff, who is an artist and a university administrator, delves into what it means to be creative. As he writes, “Creativity requires the ability to relax in periods of uncertainty and to trust that the creative intelligence will finds its way. The education of imagination involves giving up what I call ‘ego’ control. It requires an inclination to step into the unknown as well as the ability to persist when there is no end in sight. … The process (of creativity) is a route; sometimes it is tangled and at other times it opens to us with the directness, speed, and pleasure of a water slide.” McNiff goes on to say, “A personal place of creation is a grounding influence and a partner through every phase of expression. …Maintain (your)artistic workspace as a sanctuary, a place at home where creative expression is nourished and regenerated.”

Do you have a place to nourish your creativity? Make one!

Creativity is the root of innovation. It is the heart of problem solving. It is implicit in “ideating” things in a fresh way, Ironically, it is what our creative field needs most, right now, to survive and thrive once again, when standard operating approaches are no longer standard, and ways of “sustaining” nonprofit cultural organizations must be created fresh, and when we have to completely re-envision how to connect with a public so stressed that people have lost their interest even in attending, viewing, or participating in creativity.

Creativity takes practice. (Interesting, isn’t it, that “practicing the piano” or its equivalent is really about practicing creativity?) As McNiff says, “The process of creation is a force moving through us, and only through practice do we learn how to cooperate with it….the skilled artist is the one who is always responding and compensating for the changing winds of the creative process. Nothing is ever the same. Conditions are infinitely variable. Each engagement presents a new challenge, and that is the defining quality of creative practice.”

We have a lot of new challenges ahead in our world of the creative, the cultural and the arts. New models must be shaped to replace those out of date and proven obsolete. New thinking must breathe fresh enthusiasm into our entire arts and cultural system. So it is more important now than perhaps in decades for everyone in the field to remember to be a creator, to exercise those creative capacities.

As we head toward a much sought after spring (even that first crocus through the snow…) our field needs to think a lot about re-creation. That means everyone in it needs to get out there and exercise those creative capacities.

Practice creativity.