Thoughts on creativity

“..creative expertise is one of the basic ingredients of all forms of development and innovation. It shines most brightly in the numerous export successes we have enjoyed in recent years. And this remote northern country with just nine million inhabitants has a level of creativity that is attracting attention.”

If the engineer was the hero 100 years ago, in today’s society, it is the entrepreneur. This fact has been noted not just by the world’s 13 million Spotify users, but by Swedish politicians, which is why the 2011 school curriculum stresses the development of an entrepreneurial approach, of learning “to develop ideas, experiment and consider different approaches during the course of the work process, and to produce a product and evaluate the result – both of what one has created and how one has worked. Skills, in short, of use to everyone in working and everyday life.”

At the same time, it cannot really be said that we are moving away from technical know-how (“from engineer to…”) in that most of the major, ground-breaking innovations of recent years are based on a combination of talent and technology. And it is this specific combination that makes Sweden so unique. It is the fact that we have, as a country, focused both on technology and engineering science in the form of education and training, the expansion of broadband, and so-called “PC reform”, and creative learning for our citizens. At the 3-day IT conference, SIME, held last autumn, the Swedish innovation boom was particularly apparent when the stage was taken by heavyweight representatives from both Skype and Spotify. Andreas Bernström, founder of Tradedoubler and now CEO of Sweden’s Rebtel (the biggest pretender to the Skype throne) even goes so far as to suggest that Swedish innovators/entrepreneurs have a sort of unique sense of creative and digital models and the way they should work globally.

Swedish curricula have long acknowledged the importance of fostering creativity in schoolchildren. Craft was introduced as a school subject in the early 1800s and by the end of that century, art and drawing had been introduced and was subsequently followed by music. The teaching of art and drawing was designed to develop the children’s sense of aesthetics and thereby improve their thinking! The Folk High School curriculum of 1919, meanwhile, stated that children’s developmental stages should form the basis for what one could require of children of different ages in terms of various proficiencies as part of their art and drawing classes. Amazing!

But back to technology and engineering sciences. “Innovationskraft” [Inventiveness/Power of Innovation] – a collaborative project between the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions – was launched in late 2011. The project’s website states that: “The project will, on the basis of existing analyses, review the concrete measures that may be required to create a more favourable climate for innovation in Sweden that brings about growth in more companies. The focus is on dialogue and activities.”

This sounds absolutely wonderful. But… If I might make a suggestion to the Chair of the Steering Group, Marcus Wallenberg, I would say: Hi there. Your project sounds really exciting. But in 2012, the most successful innovations will be developed by working groups that possess insights into technology, creativity and behavioural sciences. And the latter two components are to be found in a sector that seldom receives visits from engineers, namely the communications sector. But when you’re ready to hear from the likes of us, we’d love to hear from you! Because if we get this right, it could be the start of one or maybe many new Spotify solutions!”

Just over a year ago, a couple of my colleagues in the communication sector and I had the pleasure of being invited to lunch at Rosenbad. Per Schlingmann, the Moderate party’s strategist and now the Government’s Communications Director, opened the lunch meeting he hosted with a couple of questions:

“What can we in the Government do to develop the creative sectors so that they become our next big export industry? And why do you think we are so creative in this country? What are our strengths and weaknesses?”

And we told him what the sector was like. Both here in Sweden and in other countries. How our creative people and agencies are international award-winners. How colleges like Hyper Island and Berghs School of Communication are helping export creative people to Australia and elsewhere. (Did you know that the Droga5 advertising agency in Sydney has 5 former Berghs’ pupils on their books, for example?) And how in Manhattan, being a Swede is almost seen as guaranteeing the height of creativity, and how our industry intersects with other creative industries, such as the film and video games industry? What we had to say confirmed the Government’s thesis when it came to Swedish creativity – that the potential exists for exporting/internationalising the creative sectors. So much so that our Minister of Trade, Ewa Björling, has invested millions in export promotional activities within the creative industries. The fact that the Government wants to hear from people in the creative sectors in person is commendable. And it’s particularly pleasing to see that they want to hear from the sector that has, over the years, helped build, refine and sell Swedish trade and industry. Market communication.

I would even go so far as to say that creative expertise is one of the basic ingredients of all forms of development and innovation. It shines most brightly in the numerous export successes we have enjoyed in recent years. And this remote northern country with just nine million inhabitants has a level of creativity that is attracting attention. The Martin Prosperity Index was published just before Christmas 2012. This is an institute, based in London, that rates countries by creativity, using the 3 “T”s: Talent, Tolerance and Technology. Sweden was ranked first. And while we’re congratulating ourselves on that, let’s take another example: the highly renowned French business school, ISEAD, publishes a general innovativeness index – GII – every year. In 2011, Sweden was ranked second, after Switzerland.

So… to the sixty four thousand dollar question: what is Swedish industry’s most important raw material? Before I answer that, I’d like to pay tribute to the B2B days and the Think Tanks that have examined this issue in depth during the autumn. Because it takes guts to question old models that, time after time, unquestioningly beat the drum for engineering sciences. The risk is, as Pontus Schultz mentioned earlier, that you’ll be given a real flea in your ear if you even try! But even if the same old systems keep coming up with the same old answers, those of us who are asked the questions can also come up with a new answer: We can say that it’s not about one thing or the other.

The “new black” is all about not making a single choice – it’s about choosing both. It’s about generating work experience positions that cross boundaries. It’s about asking people who work in the communications sector to lecture at the Royal Institute of Technology. It’s about sending Berghs students to Atlas Copco. If nothing else, they’ll have an exciting story to think about or tell when they come home again. Because about one thing there’s no doubt at all: if we never stick our heads about the parapet or climb out of our bunkers, it’s going to get very crowded down there. There’ll be no room to breathe, and that’s not a very crafty idea. Did you know, by the way, that the word, “crafty” has the same roots as the word, “craft”? So I’d like to end by recommending an exhibition opening any day now at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm. It’s about Swedish craft through the ages. When the Museum’s Curator, Maria Perers, was asked on the “Nyheterna” news programme why she felt an exhibition of craft was needed, her answer came back like a shot:

“We’ve moved away from an engineering society to an entrepreneurial one – and that’s something that’s very clear when you look at concrete examples of creative works over the years… like crafts, for example.”

Stockholm, 2011-09-09

This text has been written by Jessica Bjurström, CEO, KOMM and was part of the digital book “Creativity is the new steel”, produced by Veckans Affärer (Swedish business magazine), Resumé (Swedish Industry paper) and Hilanders (B2B Agency). Other writers in the book: Jan Scherman, Vice President TV4-Group, Carl Wåreus, CEO Forsberg&Co (earlier CEO DDB Stockholm) and Anders Lindberg, founder of JKL.