Building A Creative Infrastructure: The Prime Economic Directive

This post begins a process to consider the importance of, and different methods of creativity.  It is a recognition, a re-thinking if you will, of the need for creativity, what it means, and how it is the foundation of much of my recent reading.  I’ll start with a couple of interesting finds from yesterday’s blog reading.  In subsequent posts I’ll look  at the research literature relevant to building a creative infrastructure.

First Harold Jarche posted about a project he undertook involving the idea of a research center bridging university research and venture interests through: applied research – prototyping – pre-commercial seeding.  As part of my comment I asked; Do you think anyone knows how to do such a thing – examples of methods?  A serendipitous browse of other blog readings that day led me to consider that creativity could be the basis of such a research center.

It was later that I came across a post by John Howkins, a guest on The Creativity at Work Blog. John has a new book, Creative Ecologies.

My new book, ‘Creative Ecologies’, shows that eco-systems is a useful model. A creative ecology is a network of habitats where people change, learn and adapt (or not, in some cases).  . . .Ecological models have a great advantage over the financial models that preoccupy government.  Ecologists speak the same language as do biologists and environmentalists and can share their ideas and theories, whereas economists are tied to rationalist preconceptions and to monetary values.  . . . Running throughout the model is what the Indonesian diplomat Soedjatmoko calls the ‘capacity to learn’.  It is astonishing how closely a country’s capacity to learn as a whole, rather than any individual genius, affects national levels of creativity and innovation. (Emphasis added)

He goes on to talk about bringing institutions of learning together and making their impact felt throughout a culture.

. . . bring think-tanks, research bodies and NGOs into the education process; protect learning-for-the-sake-of-learning from being squeezed out by learning-for-a-job vocational courses.  We must re-think ‘knowledge transfer’. . . .

In this perspective, your productivity and your sense of well being may well depend on the ecology you’re in. As Howkins says;

It helps if you are in the right place at the right time.  The old question, Where do you want to live?, is now, Where do you want to think? (Emphasis added)

Howkins, I believe, is talking about the importance of building an infrastructure of creativity, something that he indicate is substantially different from industrial era infrastructures.  It potentially could involve diversity, culture, communication, community resources and many other factors.

Which begins us to a post by Diego Rodriguez at the Metacool Blog on the The four ways of creative cultivators.  Interestingly, Diego begins with the same idea that I left off with in my last post (in my review of Management Rewired), collapsing the distinction between managing and leading.  He also uses a garden metaphor (something to which I’m partial), but I also believe that  he is really talking about 4 ideas for building an infrastructure for creativity:

1. Being at the bottom of things  (T)he leader-as-cultivator makes it their job to live simultaneously at the bottom and in the middle and on the edges, dealing with things that might seem like plain manure to outsiders. The bottom can be a messy place, but it is the wellspring of success . . ..

What is the foundation of creativity?  One aspect is to prepare your ground and the nutrients needed from growth.

2. Trusting what is there  Creative cultivators trust what is there. A wise cultivator resists the temptation to “dig up the seed”, as it were, to check if people are being creative enough. Many breakthrough innovation initiatives are stifled by linear project timetables . . ..

I don’t think this means don’t manage.  Think instead of the ways that Charles Jacobs (In my review of Management Rewired) operates in a Socratic mode collapsing the manager and leader distinction.

3. Seeing the ecosystem:  By their nature, gardens are part of larger ecosystems.

Two things.  Reflecting Howkins, the surrounding intellectual / learning community is an important source for creativity, as we already know in Silicon Valley, the North Carolina research triangle or Boston’s 128 Corridor.  But, it is also important the companies cultivate open environments and their infrastructures and policy frameworks recognize and encourage open boundaries.  Open models are becoming very successful.

4. Taking a bird’s eye view:  Finally, creative cultivators do all of the above while simultaneously curating the garden from a bird’s eye view. Managing a portfolio of creative endeavors requires knowing how many plants a certain piece of land can support and then pruning or as culling appropriate.  . . . guiding growth to be something unique and wonderful – that is the essence of strategy, and of gardening as well.

Diego also emphasizes that we can’t manage creativity, it can only be led:

(Creative Companies) see the leadership of creativity, in all its facets and complexity, as something akin to the act of cultivating a garden. Particularly when it comes to harnessing the power of emergent behavior, where creativity morphs into world-changing innovations, leaders must all — in fact, can only — tend to their gardens.  They must learn to become cultivators of creativity.

Echoing Howkins ideas of the importance of a culture of creativity, Diego says:

. . . it is incumbent upon leaders to unleash the creativity of the many, not the few.  . . . Modern organizations . . . must be able to tap in to the creativity, intelligence, and initiative of everyone affiliated with the brand, not just the talent of a select creative few.

In my next post I’ll review a Hemlin, Allword & Martin article “Creative Knowledge Environments (2008, Creativity Research Journal, 20, 2 196-210.).

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