Competing closer to the frontier of innovation requires creativity. Creative impulses generate new ideas, enable us to recognize new patterns and relationships, and ultimately allow us to stretch beyond what was previously deemed possible and prosper. A creative economy, instead of racing to the bottom in terms of skills and cost, is a race to the top by continuously generating and exploiting intellectual property. In today’s world, the success and perhaps even survival of individuals, companies, and nations as a whole rests on the ability to think and act creatively.
For individuals, creativity is important because we are competing in a labor market that has moved beyond skills that merely require following directions, a script, or a map. Simply being an obedient cog in a machine will always be outsourced to the lowest bidder and in time robots will universally have those responsibilities. Therefore, rather than a cog, one must be a linchpin in whatever it is they do. A linchpin is an original thinker, someone others can’t live without, that invests their heart and soul into creating, inventing, and leading without waiting around for someone to tell them what to do next. In other words, everyone’s an entrepreneur. To use your mind rather than your hands not only boosts your quality of life but moreover fosters emotional and social ties that develops a more civic society.
Businesses, too, more than ever, must depend on the creative impulses of their employees to stay on the cutting edge of their industry. From malls to movie theaters, in the struggle for shelf space and screen exposure, companies must stay ahead of the curve by putting forward ever more innovative products or services. Firms that do not succumb to “creative destruction”, wound down to free up capital that then flows into nimbler, more innovative firms. Take for instance recent comments by the CEO of Sony Ericsson that he doesn’t fear Chinese knock off phones eroding market share since he is confident his company can stay ahead of the copy artists by differentiation through design, branding, and marketing.
Lastly, if creativity is to spark, the task of nations is to put in place the prerequisite institutions and infrastructure for it to flow over. Since creativity takes place in the interaction between a person’s mind and socio-cultural context, without a nurturing environment in which creativity can take place, globalization erases the cultural borders of nations whose industries are unable to compete and imposes the culture of those that can. Not only does creativity contribute to GDP, cause economic multipliers, and create spinoffs, but nations also gain “soft power” in international affairs, or the ability to seduce and persuade others through the spread of their values, norms, beliefs, and lifestyles rather than the “hard power” of military technology and force. Nations, if they are to stay relevant in the 21st century, must kindle the best environment for their citizens and corporations for that spark to catch ablaze.