Freeing creativity

In about two weeks, I am going to Nantes to be the Moderator of the first Open Conference of the European Creative Industries Alliance (ECIA).  The theme of the event, and, indeed, the idea that gave birth to the ECIA, is Cross Sectoral Innovation –  How the creative industries can stimulate innovation in other sectors.  It’s a tall order.  From years of virtual marginalisation by politicians and economists, the creative sector has been moved to centre stage by no less than the EU in its efforts to increase the economic prosperity of Europe.  Realising that the European service sector employs more people than the manufacturing sector, and that the support mechanisms for innovation among manufacturing businesses have had little traction within the services sector, the European Commission’s DG for Enterprise and Industry turned, with no small degree of astonishment amongst themselves, to the creative sector.  The creative sector, they realised, embody innovation – without innovation, they cannot exist.  Furthermore, innovation is in their DNA – they innovate as they breathe.  Clearly, the solution for the wider economy was to benefit from ‘innovation spillover’ from the creative industries.  Simples, as the meerkat might say.  Let’s set up a network (ECIA), invest some money in it, (Euro millions, a few), and see what happens.

Well, the conference will reveal how things have been going in the first year of the ECIA.  I am as curious  about the result as anyone and really looking forward to seeing and hearing from my European sisters and brothers as to how this has all panned out.   But, in the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to see how CidaCo might fit into this.  We’re in our 15th year now, and looking at how our customer base has changed might be illustrative if not actually instructive.   In the early days, we were exclusively creative sector-focused.  After our first 18 months, when we had started to accumulate the experience of turning an idea into reality, a group made up of staff, board, funders and clients came together to try to articulate our core purpose.  What we came up with on those memorable two days in 2001 has stuck with us ever since and continues to be our mantra:  CidaCo exists to help creative people realise their dreams.  What has changed, however, or has at least been modified, is the interpretation of ‘creative people’.  From a starting point of working exclusively with artists, our experience has taught us that the sector has no monopoly on creativity.  Often by accident,  sometimes by design, we have found that, even in the most intellectually landlocked of organisations, there are people whose natural born instinct for creativity has escaped the ministrations of our Western education system and continues to flower, however inconveniently.   Those unheralded, unacknowledged creatives, those mavericks, are, in our view, the guides to the future.  We’ve found them in local authorities, in financial institutions, in the NHS and in manufacturing as well as in voluntary organisations and community groups.  In every case, they have been the unexpected heroes who have responded, often cautiously at first, reflecting counter cultural constraints within their own organisations.  But they are the ones who have taken the risks, put their heads and their ideas above the parapets, taken on the hierarchy where necessary, and championed the primacy of creative thinking.  They are the ones who, with just a modicum of encouragement, find their own capacity for creativity to be irresistible and, in letting it free, inspire their colleagues to take similar risks.  So middle level local authority officers turned their established modus operandi upside down and devised an entirely new way of working with elderly people; a financial institution slowly recognised a need for change and moved to put their customers centre stage (yes, really!); a manufacturer who ran his company as a 19th century command and control set up came to realise the value to be gained by respecting and rewarding his employees for their capacity to contribute individually to the growth of the business.

So today CidaCo works across many different sectors, intentionally taking our capacity and experience in creativity and innovation into many different cultures, both organisationally and nationally.  This ranges from huge established public sector monoliths to tiny ethnic micro organisations in rural areas no one  has ever heard of.  Almost without exception, it is clear that people love the opportunity to think differently, to experiment, even to fail, if that failure can be treated as learning towards success.  Creativity is a natural born capacity of human beings – it is up to us to create the environment in which creativity, and through creativity, innovation practice itself, can be nurtured and brought to fruition, to achieve not only the economic but social benefit too of  people who feel valued, appreciated and inspired to go on creating value, irrespective of their field of endeavour.

Anamaria Wills