“I think creativity and innovation are fundamental forces that are changing the world: all around the world the Creative Economy is growing faster than traditional manufacturing or traditional services, so Countries that are creative and innovative will grow their economies and become stronger”.
Few weeks after the Brexit vote, Jai Guru Deva met John Howkins, the widely-cited British author who conceived and popularized the concept of Creative Economy in 2001 through the book “The Creative Economy – How People Make Money From Ideas”: translated into 11 languages and an international best- seller, Howkin’s report focused on the analysis of the brand new relationship between individual creativity and market economics, highlighting how the industry concerned with the production of creative goods and services (such as the sectors of Visual and Performing Arts, Fashion, Music, Cinema, Television and Advertising, Software for Information and Entertainment and, more generally, all those sectors requiring costant innovation) could ensure the emerging economic systems of the third millennium higher guarantees of development and well-being than the traditional, repetitive economies of manufacturing and assembling.
Since the publication of Howkins’ work, the debate has spread internationally and in 2008 the UN proposed the 192 member States of the time a careful discussion on how “creativity, culture, economics and technology, as expressed in the ability to create and circulate intellectual capital, has the potential to generate income, jobs and export earnings while at the same time promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development”, through the “Creative Economy Report” which was defined as “the first to present the perspectives of the United Nations on this exciting new topic”. Even today, tying up the debate’s loose ends is far from being done and national roundtables to discuss the issues often proceed at different rates: in Italy, for example, the first report on the Creative Economy, entitled “Italia Creativa _ First study on the Industry of Culture and Creativity in Italy“, was presented in January 2016 while – as Howkins continues in the interview with Jai Guru Deva – “there are many Countries by sheer weight of population, like Russia, Brasil, India, Indonesia, that have little pockets of creativity and that are not yet fundamentally major players in creativity. I suspect that what will happen is that different elements of creativity will develop at different speeds“. Here is Jai Guru Deva’s full interview.
Do you remember the first time you understood the meaning of Creativity and the importance of being creative?
“I guess that would be when I was young. I can’t remember the exact occasion but I’ve always been interested in people who had their own ideas, expressed their own ideas and pursued them, and I realised quite early on – probably at school or at University – that that was something I wanted to do myself as well”.
Would you say that you grew up in an environment that recognized and nurtured your creative skills or, instead, that mainly mortified and ignored them?
“I grew up in a very conventional household and I don’t think my family members were particularly interested in the arts, culture, creativity or innovation. But they were a very supportive and a very loving family and so they gave me complete freedom to do what I felt was relevant. That was the most important support: it wasn’t specific on any particular kind of creativity but it was just a sense that expressing yourself and living your own life was a good thing to do”.
What can families do to allow creativity to thrive?
“I think the early years of the child are critical: the period from birth to the fourth year of age is crucial. Children need a stable environment, the opportunity to play and a family supporting that; they need to be alone, to read books and to be read to: reading to children is very important, having narrative, characters, stories; looking at beautiful things; inventing their own scenarios, inventing their own play and imaginary friends; playing with other people and by themselves. All of these activities that take place in those first few years of life are fundamentally important: if that is happening, then the child has a good foundation for creativity to thrive; if that does not happen – say because the home is broken or the parents are too restrictive – then it is more difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult”.
What about your experience at school? Were you required to make up your own mind about things, to explore, to invent, or instead to mainly repeat notions and knowledge provided to you by the teachers?
“I was very lucky: I went to a school where, at the age of eight, we were encouraged to be ourselves. Every morning, all the students in the school were asked to decide for themselves what they wanted to study that day. We had to write that down and then it was eventually checked but, in my memory, the teacher would always say: “That looks fine” and “Off you go and you study”. So I was given the responsability to make up my own mind, to study what I was interested in pursuing. Also, the arts master at that school was a very wise and interesting man, a rather unusual man, very deeply interested in Philosophy and in ways of living one’s life. Thanks to him, I saw art not simply as making pictures or playing with clay, but also as an approach to life. I think he was a very important person in my early years and development in this regard”.
Workplaces all around the world are now facing quite a significant transformation of what used to be the way of dealing with repetitive, daily working duties: what current situation do you see in Europe?
“Europe has an astonishing cultural tradition and heritage: it has very bright and well-educated people, a number of different countries speaking different languages, a very high level of diversity, energy and – at the moment – a lot of exchange between all of its countries. Most of the major European companies have been dominant for a long time, many of them owned by families and supported by some sort of state protection or investment. However, generally we are not as good in generating new companies that are able to dominate their field, or as good in inventing, developing, owning and then keeping companies to be global, large-scale operators”.
Can the Creative Economy help Europe overcome this issues?
“The Creative Economy is developing ideas whose value depends upon creativity and putting them into the marketplace. And that already happens in Europe. What does not yet happen in Europe at the moment is the development of this specific economy with the investment of enough capital that can compete on an international level. As an example: Europe has a fantastic heritage and tremendous skills in film making; but films that are financed, produced and made in Europe represent a very tiny proportion of the global film market. Or, in terms of tech companies, we have a number of unicorns with a market value of over one billion Euros, but we haven’t yet gone beyond that. So the tech world, the app world, the online world, the digital world are dominated by Russia, America and China. In other words: we have the intellectual abilities and our creativity is not in question, but the ambition and the investors who would invest is still a problem; we don’t yet have the appetite for risk and for long-term development that you see in other countries”.
How can European Governments support the Creative Economy to flourish?
“That’s a very European question. It’s a question that I also find around the world but not, for example, in America: Americans would say that it’s up to the individuals, the businesses and the companies to make the Creative Economy flourish. Governments cannot take responsability for building up big companies, because they don’t have the skills or aptitude to do so. Unless you decide to follow the path taken in China, where companies are, at the end of the day, regulated and influenced by the Government willingly; but European companies don’t like that. So Governments can help with education, with fundings for start-ups, can adjust the tax rules and simplify bureaucracy – particularly for Mediterranean countries like Spain, France, Italy and Greece where, in many cases, regulations have become too restrictive, too complicated and are dragging back the speed with which new companies can develop. But still, the ability of Europe to develop big companies, to generate wealth that stays in Europe instead of going off to America, is up to business. I don’t believe that the Government has a big role there. It depends on the culture, the mindset of the Europeans”.
Talking about risks: governments usually tend to avoid them as much as they can, don’t they?
“Yes. There is a fundamental conflict between the ideas of the Creative Economy and the principles of the Government: the principles of the Government are towards regulations, stability and very low risk; the principles of the Creative Economy are towards freedom, risk and innovation. It’s much easier, much more comfortable for a Government to support infrastructure – such as roads, hospitals, schools and buildings – because they know that, if they commission a building, it will get built more or less in time and on budget. Supporting creative people, inventors, designers and in general taking risks on something new, conflicts with the essential principles of running a good Government. A politician, a policy-maker, a minister may intellectually understand arts and culture at a very high level and very deeply but, in his role as a minister, he will be inhibited for good reasons from supporting creativity and innovation in the same ways he would be able to support infrastructure, property, buildings and large companies that are in – what I call – the “repetitive economy” of manufacturing and assembling. Moreover, the Creative Economy is not just about making and, again, this is something that Governments have a problem with because Governments are very good at affecting supply: they can subsidize people to make stuff but cannot – and should not – affect demand. The Creative Economy is not just a supply mechanism: it’s a supply-and-demand system”.
So what can entrepreneurs do to develop and establish their creative business?
“If we look at creativity, in all periods and all cities, it is always the individuals who foster it: it always starts with a large number of individuals having some freedom, a really good idea, plus the sensitivity to the marketplace. It is up to the individuals to take responsibility for their own ideas, to develop them, to argue them with passion and to learn how to manage them and how to balance what they want to do with what the market wants. I think this is the essence of creativity and the essence of the Creative Economy: it is not just about having a good idea, but also having a sense that the market really wants it. And then understanding how to put it into the marketplace. Many creative people, inventors and investors tend instead to forget about marketing and sales”.
Are the new information and communication technologies significantly contributing in promoting the Creative Economy? Do you consider Internet an “ally” or an “enemy” to Creativity?
“As far as the Internet is concerned, I am not sure it is either; I think it is certainly making a lot of changes: it is changing the way we value work, the way we distribute it, the way we price it, as well as changing the value chain. It is enabling more people to create, more people to get to the marketplace and it is changing in particular music, performance, videos, texts and publications. There are winners and losers so I do not think the Internet is one thing: I think it is many different things and it can mutate very quickly”.
What are your main hopes, faiths and fears for the Creative Economy in the near future?
“I suspect that what will happen is that different elements of creativity will develop at different speeds. It’s changing schooling, education and learning; it’s changing the way cities develop and the relationships between cities. It changes the way research is done, our ability and our desire to confront the major challenges of our time like poverty, food shortages, water shortages, global warming and religious conflict and it is an influence of all of these major challenges at a time. And its influence is growing. But it is not by any means a linear, smooth development: in some places it grows, in some others it doesn’t. So to me it is one of the major influences on the future of how we see ourselves and the societies we live in”.
What was your reaction to the outcome of the recent Brexit vote?
“I was very disappointed in the vote: I am a committed European, I am a committed Londoner, I am a committed Briton and I think all these roles support each other. I worked a lot with the European Commission and the Parliament and I was disappointed by Britain’s attitude. The creative industries in Britain voted by about 80 to 90% to stay in the EU, because we are working for the creative industries of audiovisual, culture, art and heritage and we want to be part of Europe. So the creative industries were voting by very overwhelming proportions to stay in Europe. But we are a minority and we lost. I think that now most people in the UK are very concerned about their future because our politics is going through a major change and we don’t know which way it is going to fall out. It is a divided country at the moment and I hope we will come together again. I don’t know what is going to happen over the next 3/4 years or what our relationship with the EU will be. Nobody does”.
What advice would you give to a young individual who may realize that his or her creative capabilities are not recognized and valued in the context where he or she lives?
“If you want to be creative, which is a difficult, hard, lonely occupation and you’re in a place where it is not welcome, then you’ve got to go somewhere else. And if that’s not possible for political reasons or you haven’t got the right passport or you can’t afford it, then it is a real tragedy. What Europe should be doing is providing the circumstances where people can go to where they want to be, where they can be creative and contribute to the development of that society”.