Creative Ecologies, where thinking is a proper job

    John Howkins

    We first met John during the first edition of the Creative Company Conference. John is author of ‘The Creative Economy’, it was the first account of the new economy, describing the new ways of working that are revitalizing culture, manufacturing, service, retailing and entertainment industries and affecting where people want to live, work, learn – and invent, create and produce. John’s new pet subject is called Creative Ecology, and at our request he has contributed a short piece about it.

    Creative Ecology

    For the past few years, we have been trying to find the right words to describe what we see in front of us when we walk around the city,

    cruise the web, read the hundreds of new design magazines, talk to our friends, think about our work; when we realise how our businesses make money and how we have the greatest fun.

    Words like creativity, innovation and knowledge are tossed around. Business schools research co-creation and user-generated innovation. Cities claim to be ‘creative cities’, whatever that means. The European Commission talks of the knowledge society. Americans  caught up in the Web talk of wired, network economies.


    We’ve been here before in the sense that many previous societies have seen jumps in art and science. But what is happening now is different in terms of scope (more activities, more sectors) and scale (more people).

    What I see in front of me is the world’s first economy based on the individual and his or her dreams, imaginations and desires. I don’t mean we are entering a new age of hedonism (or do I?) I do know that my, your, our ability to create new meanings from something, anything, is becoming the chief source of value and the chief indicator of price in most of the economy. Previously, this kind of value creation was limited to the arts and culture. Now it is available to practically all goods and services.

    In order to understand this we need to go far beyond the normal concerns of economists as well as way outside the normal appreciation of art. We need a new framework for the process whereby a diverse bunch of people learn, copy, adapt and re-use the ideas that they fancy.

    The key words are ‘learn’ and ‘adapt’. Learning is the basic skill: learning what has been done already and what might be new, learning what is good and what is second-rate, learning how to express oneself and how to create beauty, and learning how to create beauty for other people.

    One science has made a speciality of learning and adaptation. It’s called ecology, which started about 150 years ago as an offshoot of biology and looks at how organisms relate to their surroundings.

    I am working on a model of a creative ecology. In this, the organisms are us humans as individuals rather than companies which are the preferred unit, the language, of classical economics. And the surroundings are all the ideas we can use.

    Bringing together a symbiosis of two such buzz words as creativity and ecology isn’t easy. The ecologists’ precise mathematical calculations cannot but be affronted by the subjective descriptions of many creativity experts, though they are more impressed by the neuroscientists. But there are many fruitful results. We need to do it.


    You can buy his book "Creative Ecologies" here.

    © Mattmo 2024
    free counter