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Creative Failure – cr8net 2012

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cr8net 2012 at the Royal Institute of Great Britain

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?

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Creative Exchange(s)

Having just given a keynote talk at the Creative Exchange (slides above, or if you’re browser isn’t letting you see them, click here), it has been a genuinely invigorating experience to talk to and get feedback from creative industry businesses, entrepreneurs and freelance workers. The talks and Q&A sessions all had stimulating content with tangible repercussions for how creative industry business can collaborate, access finance and reach their audience (whoever that may be). You can relive the day through the twitter stream, #CE11.

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The folly of Coalition Creative Industry Policy

This article cropped up on my RSS feed this morning which was interesting and relevant enough to tweet about, but thinking about it a bit more, it got me slightly riled, and not just because it’s Clegg. The headline (as is usually the case with these things) is slightly misleading, but nevertheless, his main proposal seems to be to give cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle the “capital to compete with other cities”. This will presumably be through local enterprise partnerships, that put business leaders at the forefront of policy decision-making. This, by itself, is not a bad idea. In fact, in terms of local economic recovery, it’s quite a good idea as business acumen coupled with local knowledge will encourage wiser investment strategies than would be cooked up in Whitehall. However, what I think Clegg is missing (or more precisely, what the people who tell him what to say have missed) is the fact that the distance between investment and successful development is even further apart in the creative industries than it is in other sectors of the economy. Offering incentives to car manufactures to relocate in a particular region is a fairly straightforward strategy, as long as the labour force is there, it’s a fairly simple equation (negating the complexities of globalisation of course…), but attempting to stimulate the creative industries from a ‘top-down’ approach is a far more risky strategy. The preponderance of SMEs and freelancers in the creative industries creates a complex (socio-)economic regional (more often than not, urban) landscape consisting of social networks, tacit knowledge, informal exchange and untraded interdependencies (to use Economic Geography undergraduate speak). The infusing of everyday knowledge that cannot be codified with more stringent, mechanistic properties of business practices is a synergistic interplay that the creative industries undertake continuously, and, by no means gets it right itself. So why would a local enterprise partnership know any different?

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Politics of Creativity or Creative Politics?

It’s taken a bit of time for the dust to settle on the coalition government and already we are seeing them attempting to tackle the chronic economic malaise that we currently suffering from. Public sector cuts seem to be high on the agenda and within that we have already seen the abolishment of major planned cultural projects, such as the £45 million pledge to the  BFI; wider cuts throughout the DCMS have also been outlined. Perhaps of more relevance to the policies surrounding the creative industries is this:

So, what does ‘reviewed and rebuilt’ mean? Clues may have been given to us in Jeremy Hunt’s first speech as Culture Minister. The term ‘creative industries’ has not been completely stripped out of the political rhetoric, but it seems that the cohesiveness that they once purported is ebbing away in favour of a more digitally-orientated taxonomy, one which focuses on infrastructure and local provisioning of content. Since those infamous Mapping Documents of 1998 and 2001, there has been a great deal of debate. This seminar at the Open University a couple of years ago, for me, epitomised these debates, with Jon Newbigin’s talk in particular noting the political drive behind the ‘coalition’ of the creative industries concept (look out for a question by me to Prof. Pratt about 1 hour 5 mins in).

It seems that the 00s was the honeymoon period of the creative industries as a functional concept. I often argued that the ‘siloization’ of the creative industries into subsectors was a vacuous exercise, an attempt to justify the spending on the various councils that exist. But now, it seems that as there is an emphasis now on the delivery of content rather than the production of it, the new government is formulating a politics of individual creativity and the delivery thereof, rather than attempting to herd companies and people together in attempt to statistically justify their spending. This is a positive move. Creative industry activity has always been two or three steps ahead of any policies designed to encourage them, and their mixing of production techniques, their sharing of individuals and their cross-pollination of ideologies, has belied constant labelling and typologies. Now, with a focus on supporting the platforms for this mixing; the more rapid delivery of the content; and the room for innovation; and most importantly a policy for a digital, not analog age; this can only catalyse the productivity of the sector, and provide the financial rewards that the creative industry companies rightly deserve. It would be interesting now to see if any of this is recognised in today’s budget….


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New York, LA and London: A Creative Industry World City Network

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Being the newest member of the Globalisation and World Cities Research Group at Loughborough University, I thought that it was worth splicing together my interest in the creative industries and cultural economy with the methodologies of my new Ivory Tower.

What GaWC pioneered in recent years was a methodology to produce hierarchies based not on what is inside cities (such as what Sassen (1991) with her famous book title ‘London New York and Tokyo’, and others previously had been doing), but on city connectivity of multinational companies (see Taylor, 2004). One of the first papers (Beaverstock et al., 1999) published by the GaWC group compiled a hierarchy of world cities based upon the connectivity of business service firms, as opposed to the attributional factors that previous scholars used (Such as Hall, 1966; Friedman, 1986). This study was important because it was the first to rank cities upon relational data. In other words, it used the connectivity of the firms (APS firms, not creative industry firms) being studied as the barometer for the hierarchy, not attributional data that had previously been adopted. Using data on the location of the headquarters of major business service firms, and the location of those firms’ subsidiary branches, the connectivity of each city was ranked, thereby creating a relational hierarchy based on communication and connectivity; rather than counting the number of firms in any given city and comparing them.

This paper became was a seminal research agenda which spawned a number of other authors to conduct simiilar  into the connectivity of world cities, which are all available as research bulletins on the GaWC site. One which is ofrelevance here, is that of Krätke (2003) who produced a similar connectivity index, but this time based on media conglomerates, again using the headquarter locations and subsidiary branches as the basis of quantifying the connectivity. The production of the quantitative relational empirics by Beaverstock et al. (1999) for advanced producer service firms and Krätke (2003) for media firms, produced a preliminary visualisation of the world city network, and were the first empirical steps into a new conceptualisation of world cities. However, Krätke’s (2003) work used 33 media firms, using specific criteria;

“In order to carry out an empirical study of the network of globally linked media cities and the relative importance of the various urban nodes in the global cultural economy an analysis was made of the location networks of 33 global media industry firms with a total of 2,766 business units (establishments). To qualify as “global” a media firm had to have a presence in at least three different national economic areas and at least two continents or “world regions” (USA / Canada / Latin America; Europe; Asia / Australia; Africa) with its branch offices, subsidiaries and holding firms”.

(Krätke, 2003: 610)

Therefore, the hierarchy in this blog post is put forward as an extension (and update) of Krätke’s initial work, by including more firms from an official ranking – namely the Financial Times Top 500 and the Forbes Global 2000 – the (arguably) two most recognised (and utilised), list of global companies by business. These sources rank companies by turnover and value, which provides are more objective economic representation of the ‘global’ companies in any given sector (this list is given here).

The categories that aligned most with the ‘accepted definition’ of the creative industries (by this I mean in the UK) were media, software and services and leisure goods. While these are not exact matches for the DCMS’ sub-sectors, they represented those companies which deal in services and products that are considered part of the creative economy. The methodology involved having to select which cities the selected companies were located in, and where their subsidiary branches and wholly-owned companies were located. This information was gathered from hoovers.com, and where needed, research on the individual company’s website. Each city where an office was located was given a score of 1 and added together to give the final score. The list of cities and their scores are listed here. Below is a map of the cities that scored 3 or more (for reasons of clarity).

It is worth considering the consequences of this hierarchy in light of the methodology used. First, as can be seen, there is very much a North American bias to these cities which comes about from the nature of the companies used in this methodology. The majority of the top global companies are media conglomerates and software companies (the top 5 being Microsoft, Time Warner, Viacom, Comcast and Walt Disney) and the large number of small to medium sized firms and freelancers that populate the creative economy are not represented. However, it can be said that while these global firms do not represent the ‘whole’ of the creative industries globally, they are the most accurate portrayal of those global, trans-national companies which produce and deal in products that are considered ‘cultural goods’ (Scott, 2004, 2005; Lash and Lury, 2007). And as they represent a large proportion of global trade in these products, their inter-city connectivity data can provide valuable information regarding the cities and regions of interest to the global firms in contemporary creative industry activity. So, in using these firms (which are predominately based in the US) then this data set will have a tendency to skew toward a North American bias, as many of these firms will have offices in cities across the US before they branch out overseas.

With this in mind, we can see from the map and the list of cities, that New York, Los Angeles and London form a triumvirate of cities in the creative industries. Other notable cities include San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta; and the cities with any significance that occur outside the North American region are Paris and Tokyo. The lack of other regional cities in the UK is significant, with Birmingham the next highest with a score of only 3.

This data is designed to provide an overview of the world city connectivity of the creative industry, and while it is a ‘snapshot’, this exercise could be repeated at regular intervals in order to provide temporal aspect to the data, which will highlight which cities are increasing their creative industry internationalisation practices through their global firms.


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Creative Recessions: Are the Creative Industries the way out?

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The last few weeks has seen myself and other creative industry commentators share information (through Twitter, Google Reader feeds etc) about how various institutions, companies, governments and individuals are championing the cultural and creative industries (some saying ‘the arts’) as a way out of the current financial turmoil.

There is no doubt that while the financial sector has been imploding, the creative industry sectors have been steadily increasing their wealth, income generation and presence (in the UK economy at any rate) – or so the rhetoric would have you believe. NESTA’s recent report on how the creative industries will be the engine of growth in the UK suggests “between 2009 and 2013 the UK creative industries – which is responsible for films, music, fashion, TV and video games production – will grow on average at 4% – more than double the rate of the rest of the economy. By 2013, the sector is expected to employ 1.3 million people, likely to be more than the financial sector” (quote taken from here). These are bold statements, given the recent problems that have been reported in the so-called creative sectors. Forster & Partners, the global architectural firm shed 350 workers, Geary has halved its workforce, ITV is facing huge job cuts through a fall in advertising revenue, the music industry continues to battle against online innovations which limit their profits, and a particular issue of mine, the UK computer game industry is still facing a massive brain drain to Canada (also here) due to the fact that the government is still sitting on it’s hands regarding tax incentives for the industry.

However, recently, the creative evangelist himself Richard Florida has been trumpeting how the creative economy is where the US should be focusing it’s efforts, and not bailing out the stagnant and ‘old world’ industries of the banks and the automobiles. There is a sense that we should be enforcing a ‘revolution’, not ‘reseting’ the old and unworkable Fordist economy regime, by encouraging creativity and not supporting industries which got us into this mess in the first place – a message that has been echoed for the UK.

So where does this leave us? The mixed messages coming from the UK government are unhelpful, but they do point toward the fact that their is a consensus that creative and innovate workers need to be encouraged to ‘let rip’ and rebuild a different economic base to that from before. But more than this, it is the ‘atomisation’ (i.e. networked individualisation, or connected fragmentation) of the creative economy that will be crucial in the future. Architecture as an industry is so heavily linked to construction that an economic downturn, which effects the construction of major projects more acutely (one only has to remember the stationary, rusting cranes of the Asian financial crisis of 1997), will always see these firms suffer in one way or another. That is why those innovations that can make things more efficient or more environmentally friendly will win out in the end, not only politically, but economically.

Also, I believe that the problems facing ITV (and to some extent Channel 5 and 4) are indicative of a wider social media movement. Spoon-fed media is not what the majority of people are looking for in this hyper-connected, user-generated-content environment; and producing films, televisiual products, music recordings or newspapers for mass consumption is a process that will soon be redundant. Having the ability to produce and manipulate content to your own desires is the future of cultural production and the industrial policies that Mandelson is keen to operationalise will have to take note of this. How? That’s for the politicians to argue over, but encouraging risk-taking and collaborative innovation are essential facets of a creative escape from recession. For example, the success of Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars is always going to be heralded as a British cultural achievement, but will the filmmakers actually make that much hard cash? Film4 (the funders) will see little of the huge profits generated by the film. The creative talent on show in this product is immense, but this does not always translate into financial reward, which if rectified, could  be ploughed back into the industry. This is not just the case in the UK, with Australia and other ‘inde’ producing countries and cities seeing similar problems.

With the advent of the democratisation of the production of cultural products through social media techniques (on which I blogged some thoughts on recently), investing the right people, firms and products will be crucial and will need to be an important part of future policy developments.


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Andy Duncan puts Creative Industries back on the Map

The creative industries seem to have reached somewhat of a plateau in recent years in terms of their progression as a concept or vehicle for improving our economic competencies. I don’t mean in terms of actual economic performance, indeed David Harte recently blogged about how the creative industries may be experiencing a slowdown, which is in contrast to much of the rhetoric that surrounds them. Instead, the UK government has seemingly entrenched them as an industrial concept, yet the practitioners are constantly challenging the status quo by pushing creative boundaries and fueling some of the most important innovations in the field.

I was lucky enough to be invited to hear Andy Duncan speak at NESTA this morning and I was reassured to hear that he resonated these sentiments, saying that the creative industries and the changes inherent in them, needs to be fully on the government’s radar. As well as vehemently rejecting Mark Thompson’s call for a merger between Channel 4 and Channel 5 (a rejection which is echoed by Jemery Warner), the other major point that I took away was his ambition to make Channel 4 (particularly the 4IP scheme) what he described as ‘a tool making factory’ rather than a ‘content factory’ (I’m paraphrasing as given the start time of the talk, I refused to start taking notes until I had finished my coffee). Basically, his point was that he wanted to equip people with the tools to be able to generate the content themselves, rather than simply funding people with good content-ideas. This reminded me of the Oxfam advert (which used an old Lao Zhu quote) which says “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.

This type of ‘publisher-not-creator-content’ mantra, allowing citizens to be the content-generators has massive implications for the creative industries. It is a widely held truism that the creative industries are populated by freelancers (see an older blog post), and this kind of attitude will only serve to atomise these industries even further. I am not suggesting this is a good/bad thing either way, but we/government must be equipped to be able to handle just a shift. For me, this will require 3 (probably more – but these are the most imminent in my mind) issues to be addressed:

  1. As Andy Duncan mentioned briefly, we will need better regulation for content; as we saw with the Brand/Ross affair, Ofcom’s mechanism for regulation prompted (what most people agreed to be) an over-the-top reaction from the BBC, but citizen-generated content would only lead to more ‘extremes’ in content which would need more sensible regulation.
  2. Individualisation of content generation would, in my view, lead to an overall deterioration of quality as the best content is usually generated through collaborative action (I realise this not always the case though). Therefore, the importance of ‘creative clusters’ will increase; be these virtual or physical (i.e. what is going on at Salford University at the moment), we will need to foster and encourage collaborative action, and importantly, allow failure and legislate for it, i.e. allow creative people to take more risks. Creative Quarters and the role of universities will be crucial in this, and I have a paper coming out soon in the Creative Industries Journal which emphasises this very point.
  3. Finally, a more intuitive funding structure which has at the moment breadth but little depth (in most creative fields anyway). Spreading the pot thinly is great for picking up the ‘distant’ talents that would not otherwise get the break, but sometimes its worth putting at least some eggs in one basket by financially backing proven talent more generously than is currently available.

As someone who has debated the UK government’s conceptualisation of the creative industries (see my first ever blog entry), it was refreshing to hear someone of Duncan’s standing attempting to drive forward and challenge the government’s stance on the creative industries, but it will remain to be seen if the policy makers have been taking heed of this debate. The rapid increase of Web 2.0 capabilities and the technological developments that are fueling them, means that the change in content-generation that Duncan talked about will happen sooner rather than later (he predicted the next 5-10 years) and so the  issues raised above will need to be tackled quickly. The recession will only exacerbate this desire, as we (society, government, businesses) look to the creative and knowledge industries for the next source of Britain’s global competitiveness. We best not let them down!

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