Creativity: Why It Matters
Creativity: Why It Matters

Creativity: Why It Matters

by Darren Henley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783963782
Publisher: Elliott & Thompson
Publication date: 06/28/2018
Pages: 134
Product dimensions: 4.25(w) x 6.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Darren Henley, OBE, is chief executive of Arts Council England. His two independent government reviews into music and cultural education resulted in England's first National Plan for Music Education, new networks of Music Education Hubs, Cultural Education Partnerships and Heritage Schools, the Museums and Schools programme, the BFI Film Academy and the National Youth Dance Company. Before joining the Arts Council, he led Classic FM for 15 years. He holds degrees in politics from the University of Hull, in management from the University of South Wales, and in history of art from the University of Buckingham. A recipient of the British Academy President's Medal for his contributions to music education, music research and the arts, his books include The Virtuous Circle: Why Creativity and Cultural Education Count and The Arts Dividend: Why Investment in Culture Pays.

Read an Excerpt



This is a fast world. The philosopher and organisational thinker Charles Handy thinks we are living through a time when the life cycle of enterprises is getting shorter and shorter – a phenomenon illustrated on mathematical graphs by the familiar spoon-shaped line known as the sigmoid curve.

A graph, for example, showing the gradual rise and slow decline of ancient empires across hundreds of years would feature a gently undulating sigmoid curve. But if we were to extend the graph up to the present day, the curves would get shorter and steeper. The Roman Empire lasted five hundred years; the British Empire around three hundred and fifty; the Soviet Empire just forty. The same is happening to commercial enterprises. They used to last an average of forty years before they collapsed or were taken over; now it's an average of just fourteen years.

It's an especially visible phenomenon in the world of the business giants. Take photographic company Kodak or mobile phone manufacturer Nokia. Both enjoyed massive growth based on the quality of their products, but both then took a dramatic nosedive. Each is an example of a company that realised too late that technology markets are driven not simply by product quality, but by function and by gratification. With the advent of digital photography, Kodak failed to capitalise quickly enough on its position of pre-eminence in the photographic world. New digital technology rendered Kodak's traditional cameras – with film that needed to be developed in a photo lab – virtually obsolete.

Meanwhile, new entrants into the mobile phone market such as Apple and Samsung left Nokia trailing behind because they understood more clearly the opportunities for mobile phones to do so much more than make calls. To remain relevant, you need not only a quality product but also to think of all the different ways it might be used; listening to what your customers want is the key to building a sustainable business. Companies need to anticipate the effect of technological advances and to have the creativity to imagine what people might want in the future, not just what they need today.

Although technology is often described as 'disruptive', I don't think it's wise to think of it in a negative sense. Technology is bringing positive change at unanticipated rates, with investment swinging behind tech. Massive trusts and sovereign wealth funds are now disinvesting from fossil fuels and looking to renewables. Within our lifetimes, all private and public transport will turn electric. China is selling as many electric cars every month as Europe and the US combined. Tesla may make the headlines with its 'Insane' and 'Ludicrous' Model S drive modes (or indeed its space mission), but most major car companies have committed to an electric future. Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover will end production of pure fossil-fuelled cars within three years.

The technological revolution has brought enormous economic opportunities but at a pace that presents equally enormous challenges to businesses. The sigmoid curve will develop ever more choppy wavelengths and according to Charles Handy, the trick to staying afloat is to anticipate your zenith and begin a second curve before the first curve peaks. Businesses need to innovate how they achieve innovations.

The record industry is a hotbed of artistic innovation, but major trends are often nurtured from humble beginnings. Today, artists with a background in the British grime scene are becoming increasingly dominant in the charts. After huge success on small independent labels, grime artists such as the 2018 BRIT Award winner Stormzy are now beginning to see their output championed by major record companies, with multinational Warner Music entering into a joint venture with Stormzy's own #Merky label, following the massive impact of his debut album. Far from being manufactured by a huge corporation, Stormzy's music was originally the product of London's vibrant underground music ecology, through which a host of individual performers, producers, independent labels and venues were able to move quickly to establish a following and seize opportunities. Like the punk and dance genres that came in previous decades, the growth of grime in the UK in the past few years was born out of grass-roots creativity. The major labels will now invest to take it even further into the mainstream and also to provide a platform on the international stage.

"Businesses need to innovate how they achieve innovations."

Creative reinvention in pop music is by no means a new phenomenon. The late David Bowie, thanks to all of his many incarnations, was often held up as an example of business acumen, and Madonna has pushed herself through numerous technical and stylistic reinventions to keep on top. Successful pop music artists evolve like great painters and sculptors. David Hockney has exhibited a consistent curiosity and open-mindedness when it comes to subject matter, medium and style, as shown by his effortless transition to creating art on iPads, while Louise Bourgeois enjoyed extraordinary longevity by eluding easy categorisation altogether.


Creativity, then, may offer a way for big businesses to survive and thrive amid this new industrial revolution. But what about individuals? How can we harness the power of creativity to handle the undoubted changes that are coming our way in the world of work?

In 2013, a study by Oxford University academics reckoned that 47 per cent of today's jobs will be replaced by computers within twenty years. Similar predictions have followed at regular intervals. In 2015, the Bank of England's chief economist said that 80 million US and 15 million UK jobs might be taken by robots. In January 2017, McKinsey & Company, the private sector's leading business consultants, published a study that found about 30 per cent of tasks in 60 per cent of occupations could be automated by currently available technology. Though the proportion of occupations that might be fully automated is less than 5 per cent, partial automation will impact almost all occupations to a greater or lesser degree. The impact could reach half of the world economy. And this is what could be done with currently available technology; the pace of change might make the impact far greater still.

Automation will begin by sweeping up work roles that are routine, repetitive and predictable. That encompasses many tasks in areas such as manufacturing, quality control and food production. But robots are already taking over repetitive tasks in professions such as accountancy and the law, with paralegals having their jobs computerised, while most of us will have had a call from an automated telemarketer. Medical services are beginning to become automated as well. Even salvation can be digitalised, with apps now available for Catholics to track sin.

"Automation will begin by sweeping up work roles that are routine, repetitive and predictable."

Mass automation could have revolutionary, violent consequences in a world in which 30–45 per cent of the world's working-age population is already unemployed, inactive, or underemployed, and where there has been a sharp decline in the share of national incomes paid to workers. The world is already full of stark inequalities. The most recent report by the UK government's Social Mobility Commission lays bare the growing problems of inequality, showing how there are seams of poverty in some of our most prosperous areas.

Of course, total automation may not come to pass. Back in 1930, John Maynard Keynes (who advocated for the creation of the Arts Council) predicted that we would be working fifteen-hour weeks by now. That hasn't happened. In fact, Charles Handy writes that in the last sixty years, automation has arguably only eliminated the occupation of elevator operator. We are still evolving our attitude towards technology, striving for the ethical maturity that will allow us to decide how far individuals should be able to choose their relationships with technology. But we must also bear in mind the basic rules that govern corporate economics: if it is cheaper to develop and deploy robots to carry out a task currently performed by humans, it is more than likely to happen.

So which jobs are likely to remain in human hands? Perhaps it will be those that require the ability to handle such a wide variety of circumstances that it's not possible or economic to create a one-size-fits-all technological alternative. And perhaps, too, it will be those jobs that require people skills as well as technical knowledge, such as psychologists, dentists, doctors and other caring professions. Research published by the innovation agency Nesta in 2018 suggests that creative roles are particularly resistant to automation, with 87 per cent of creative occupations at low risk of being replaced by a machine.

"Creative roles are particularly resistant to automation."

It's not merely a question of which jobs will remain, but also of how we will carry on doing them. Indeed the redefinition of our working world has already begun. The most striking example is the rise of self-employment and the 'gig economy'. In the UK, the trend towards self-employment has accelerated since the turn of the century: figures for October 2017 showed that there are now 4.86 million self-employed workers in the economy, a little over 15 per cent of all people in work. The gig economy has encouraged people to dissolve the barrier between professional and personal assets, and put bits of their own lives onto the market place. For some people, it has proved to be a novel and flexible approach to earning an income; for others it is desperately hard work with little reward and no benefits.

Self-employment has gone hand in hand with a proliferation in small- and medium-sized businesses. There were a record 5.5 million private sector businesses at the start of 2016, two million more than in 2000. Nearly all of these are defined as small- or medium-sized. Collectively, they employ 15.7 million workers – 60 per cent of all private sector employment – and have a turnover of £1.8 trillion – that's 47 per cent of all private sector turnover in the UK.

And out there, glowing like stars among those small business figures, are the creative industries and the arts and cultural sector, which I believe have exactly the right kind of energy and ideas to take advantage of this new world.


Plenty has been written in recent times about the success of our creative industries – this bustling aggregation of arts, tech, design and knowledge, where sectors and skills blend. It is a bright cluster of businesses and talents within the overall system of our economy. It puts a smile on our face as a nation. It gives us a sense of self-confidence. And it makes jobs and money.

The creative industries contributed £91.8 billion to the UK economy in 2016 – that's 5.3 per cent of the UK economy (bigger than the combined totals of the automotive, life sciences, aerospace and oil and gas industries). Between 2010 and 2015 they grew by 44.8 per cent – faster than any other sector. They have also outperformed other sectors in terms of employment growth and they are a net exporter of services. In total, the UK creative industries employ almost two million people in the UK and exported £21.2 billion of services in 2015.

A recent independent review led by Sir Peter Bazalgette predicted that the creative industries could deliver close to £130 billion GVA (Gross Value Added) by 2025, and approximately one million new jobs could be created by 2030. The review pointed out the extraordinary advantages we have in this area – we have the language, we have the intellectual property, and we have the talent – and how business could make more use of the creative skills of the sector. As Baz observed:

The skills and business models of this sector and of the wider creative economy are those which many experts judge to be of increasing importance: blended technical and creative skills; collaborative interdisciplinary working; entrepreneurialism and enterprise.

One of the key words here is enterprise, which I think implies a crucial measure of dynamism. As the organisational psychologist Adam Grant notes, successful creative people are distinguished not by a dramatic qualitative difference in what they do, but by the energy of their production. They have lots of ideas, of which a small number will be successful.

Mozart composed more than 600 pieces before his death at thirty-five; Beethoven produced 650; Bach more than 1,000. Picasso's work includes 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 12,000 drawings, plus prints, rugs and tapestries. The same is true of great scientific inventors. Between the ages of thirty and thirty-five, when he pioneered the light bulb, the phonograph and the carbon telephone, Edison filed more than a hundred patents for inventions.

Creative thinkers produce a lot of duds – but also those few vital gems. Creative thinking moves things forward and, crucially, it's at home in the restless world of technological change.

Within the creative industries, the arts and cultural sector has been a particularly stellar performer. The latest available figures show that in 2015 the contribution to the economy by the arts and the cultural industries grew year-on-year by 10.4 per cent to £11.8 billion, while the economy as a whole grew by 2.2 per cent. The government is now making back £5 in taxes for every £1 it puts into the cultural sector. If that alone isn't a case for investing in creativity, then I'm not sure what is.

Arguably, we are only enjoying this success because of a far-sighted policy of public investment in art and culture that has been shared by all political parties since the Arts Council was created more than seventy years ago. By democratising public art, sharing our national cultural treasures, encouraging participation, and investing in infrastructure and generations of talent, we have fostered the creative skills that have helped the cultural sector to emerge as a significant economic force – perhaps just at the right time.

While this is an undoubted success story, I would argue that these same creative skills should be integrated far more widely into our economy. The Victorians understood this, which helped them lay the foundations for the manufacturing successes of the first Industrial Revolution. In Victorian times the state was a more active funder of culture than people suppose. The Great Exhibition of 1851, for example, was organised by Henry Cole who had previously reformed the national network of public design schools. These had a particular emphasis on industrial design that would be useful to manufacturing. The schools were supported through the Department of Science and Art. In 1870, this government department had a budget in excess of £206,000. Projected forward as a proportion of GDP, this might be something like £300 million in today's money.

The huge profits from the Great Exhibition then funded the creation of the South Kensington Museum that eventually grew into the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Royal College of Art. Here, there was a cross-fertilisation between the schools of medicine, art, science, natural history, food, animal products, patents and economic science, to name just a few. The V&A was a bustling, hands-on learning environment, in an age when the function of many universities was simply to award a degree.

Things changed. Art and science parted ways: teaching became more restricted to the classroom and lecture theatre; business holed itself up in the office; and culture became the province of the artist.

"The technology business is becoming a common ground for art and industry."

Now, as a new industrial revolution gathers pace, I think that these damaging artificial divisions are disappearing; the boundaries between disciplines are changing. The technology business is becoming a common ground for art and industry, and higher education is again taking a leading role in the life and work of our communities. I believe this is an emerging trend that we need to encourage. As I have travelled around England, I have seen for myself how often universities are enterprising and powerful forces for growth and innovation in their local towns and cities, doing an increasingly important job both as civic leaders and as artistic and cultural custodians. The vital role that universities are playing here should be more widely recognised and valued.

At present, London is our cultural powerhouse, supplying 45 per cent of jobs in the art and culture sector. It has a historic advantage as the seat of government, and as a home for many cultural treasures that have a gravitational pull on talent. It is a vast 'creative cluster' of cultural organisations and creative industries that I believe can work alongside and influence other sectors of the economy – demonstrating and sharing the kind of innovative thinking that has helped them flourish in recent years.


Excerpted from "Creativity"
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Copyright © 2018 Darren Henley.
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