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Marketing creativity as a commodity

By Malcolm King - posted Friday, 6 November 2009


Some years ago I asked a well-known Australian writing teacher to write an article for The Age on how she taught creativity in her classes.

She looked perplexed and then said she could write an article on the importance of social interaction in creative writing classes but she did not teach students how to be creative.

That story came back to me on a hot summer evening ripping vines off the roof of my house on the north coast of New South Wales.

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Can creativity be taught?

The question can’t be answered from current curriculums in universities. They provide the courses and resources for students but they do not teach anything about creativity or the creative process. Universities build “3D creative games incubators” or “design labs” but these are institutional cages where they hope creativity will happen, much like putting pandas in a zoo and hoping they will mate.

We know creativity when we see or hear it. To coin a phrase from the 1970s, it has the shock of the new, or it is elegant or beautiful.

Yet after 12 years of study I cannot say that I know how the creative process works. Some of the greatest art I have ever seen was produced by schizophrenics and five-year-old children - and more kudos to them.

Writers on creativity usually avoid trying to define what creativity is and instead specify particular types and degrees of creativity.

American academic Richard Florida, for example, identifies a "super-creative core" within the creative class to distinguish those who "fully engage in the creative process". What ever that is.

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Included in this category are scientists, engineers, poets, novelist, artists, entertainers, designers, architects, non-fiction writers, editors, researchers and software programmers. Yet this is still too broad to be useful. Is the creativity of a poet really the same as that of an engineer?

What Florida refers as the creative class is essentially a new name for knowledge workers born from post industrial technological change.

US sociologist Daniel Bell in The Coming of Post-Industrial Society back in 1973 argued that knowledge would become the primary driver of economic prosperity.

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First published in The Australian on October 21, 2009.



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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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