Revaluing hidden assets A creativity and obstacle audit

Every place has more assets than first meets the eye, hidden in the undergrowth, invisible, unacknowledged or under-acknowledged. The challenge is to dig deeper and to undertake a creativity and obstacle audit. For the first time in history, knowledge creation in itself is becoming the primary source of economic productivity. We are evolving from a world where prosperity depended on natural advantage (arising from access to more plentiful and cheap natural resources and labour) to a world where prosperity depends on creative advantage, arising from being able to use and mobilize creativity to innovate in areas of specialized capability more effectively than other places. Thus in the 21st century the engine for growth is the process through which an economy creates, applies and extracts value from knowledge.

The recent focus on creativity has been technocratic, leading to a focus on IT-driven innovations or business clusters. The crucial recognition of today's creativity movement is that developing a creative economy also requires a social and organizational environment that enables creativity to occur. This means creativity needs to imbue the whole system. This is witnessed, for example, through the interest in creativity shown in many countries by a diversity of government departments, ranging from trade and industry to education and culture. Creativity then becomes a general problem-solving and opportunity-creating capacity. This means we need to be alert to creativity in social, political, organizational and cultural fields as well as in technological and economic ones. The focus should be on how it generates opportunities as well as solves problems.

Creativity is therefore both general - a way of thinking, a mindset - and specific - task-oriented in relation to applications in particular fields. A creativity audit assesses creativity across a number of dimensions:

• spatial - from the city base to its regional and national surrounds;

• sector - private-, public- and community-oriented;

• industry - from advanced manufacturing to services;

• demography - assessing the creativity of different age groups, from the young to the elderly; and

• diversity and ethnicity.

The audit needs to look at creativity across the spectrum, including individuals, firms, industry sectors and clusters, networks in the city, the city itself as an amalgam of different organizational cultures, and the region. It needs to assess the relevance of creativity in the private, community and public sectors and in relation to areas like education, specific industry sectors, science and organizations in helping the prosperity and well-being of a region.

First, in relation to the private sector, while it should assess the creativity of the new economy, such as in the creative industries, it must also assess the creativity potential of traditional industries. Anecdotally, Gore-Tex, the traditional fabric manufacturer, was voted the most creative company in the US by the bible of the new economy, Fast Company, in its December 2004 'Creativity' issue.

A second area of investigation should be social entrepreneur-ship - often a means of empowering people in local communities to take responsibility and to develop entrepreneurship and solve social problems at the same time. Typically this might involve community-owned recycling companies, care for the elderly services provided by a co-operative or a food trading company.

The third is exploring the creativity of public sector organizations in terms of delivering routine services, enabling their communities to flourish through innovation in managing the urban change process and applying imaginative problem-solving to public good objectives.

Fourth is the need to assess levels of creativity in working across sectors and inter-organizational networking. This seeks to explore the extent to which value-added is created through inventive partnering and networking.

The fifth focus should be boundary-busting creativity. For example, at the beginning of the 21st century a rapprochement has begun between the two great ways of exploring, understanding and knowing, science and art. This collaborative activity has generated considerable momentum and become a powerful force for change and innovation in the development of new products, processes and services.

A sixth area of exploration is assessing how the conditions for creativity are created. This focuses especially on programmes in education and learning. Yet this should not be restricted to schools and institutions of higher learning but should also include professional development and informal learning.

A seventh element is an audit of obstacles to creativity, as it is increasingly recognized that highlighting obstacles, which themselves become targets for creative action, is at least as important as highlighting best practices.

The final area of the audit would be to look at how the physical context needs to develop to encourage creatives to stay in the region or be attracted to it. Seen in this light, every crevice in the city has a hidden story or undiscovered potential that can be reused for a positive urban purpose.

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