Failure is a dirty word. Business leaders won’t stand for it, politicians try to hide it and generally, it’s seen as something to avoid. But it seems, given the talks and discussions today at #cr8net hosted by CIDA, it is essential for creativity. The stories of how creativity has escaped the shackles of prescribed education via playful experimentation with software, and how networking with everyone who will throw a business card at you is critical to success, they sum up the rhetoric of the creative industries for the last 15 years or so. But is failure such a critical part of what constitutes creativity? Does allowing for experiments to fail really aid creative businesses? Or is it more the will to take a creative idea and putting it into practice in a meaningful way?
As we are often reminded, everyone is creative. No one really wants to be labelled as non-creative, and indeed, we see overt narratives from governance institutions about the being innovate and entrepreneurial, the economic embodiment of creativity. But if everyone is creative, why are there inequalities that exist within the cultural and creative sector? Why can’t those with the best ideas turn it into a business or a service/artefact that contributes to society? If we’re all creative then we should be all churning out ideas daily, surely? The fact that this is not the case, suggests that the problem (if indeed it should be viewed as one) is turning those ideas into a functional ‘thing’. In other words, creativity is not the idea itself, rather having the knowledge and will to turn it into something tangible – it must be the case if Matthew Taylor, the chair said so. And failure, is a key tenant of that process.
The day at cr8net was really a tale of two halves, not chronological halves, but that of the stories of success from dynamic, innovate creative entrepreneurs, and those from the governance structures (the DCMS, NESTA, educational institutions) failing to keep up. The engaging stories told by these businesses where exactly of the mantra described by the chair – namely, that the creativity they displayed was less having a bright idea (although that always helps), but more having the will to put it into practice. Of particular interest was Roger Wade’s story of BoxPark, a ‘pop-up’ shopping mall initiative in Shorditch, London. While not being a revolutionary idea, it was, in his own words, an evolution of an existing idea – but of course, no less creative. He talked of how he and his various enterprises were not afraid of failure, as long as they learnt from the mistakes. Dirujan Sabesan, a 19 year old graphic designer excelled despite knock-backs from universities and bailing out of the course he did eventually get on after only 4 weeks. He talked of how he learnt Photoshop by playing around with the functions, learning by trial and error. Other examples of the resonance of failures in he eventual successes where offered throughout the day.
The rhetoric form the DCMS and the Arts Council however, was as predicted; all the talk of supporting culture and innovate practices, but with little exemplified substance on the realities of this happening. Their views of creative practices revolve around their economic potential but are lagging behind when realising the importance of cultural impact more broadly. So in some respects, the debates held at cr8net where frustratingly stuck in the early 2000s, and it was up to those succeeding in the private sector to showcase how far the creative industries really have come since Lord Chris Smith’s ‘finger in the wind’ exercise in 1998. So when we talk of failure, let’s not do so in a bad way, but as a necessary part of the processes that should be factored into business plans and wider creative industry governance. Who knows? It might not even work…