The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not the only one happening right now.
I was in Geneva recently to speak at the first United Nations Expert Group meeting on the Creative Economy. I was talking about the importance of creative economies and clusters in developing and least developed countries – something that often gets forgotten. The overriding obsession with seeing creativity and clusters as only centred in cities and major urban areas is in danger of missing a huge opportunity for these concepts to deliver the sustainable development goals in ways that have until now simply not been given sufficient weight.
The meeting in Geneva was a chance to put a flag in the ground for this approach and I think that overall we succeeded. I have a particular interest in how clusters and creative businesses can ameliorate the vulnerabilities of narrow economies, raise educational aspiration and achievement and deliver the kind of high-skill and high-wage jobs that developing and challenged regions really need.
What was clear from the meeting was that despite a number of great projects happening around the world, there is a considerable amount of work to be done. In particular a greater an understanding of cross sector collaboration and innovation, the impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on creative production and distribution and the recognition that creative industries really are going to be the driver of the 21st Century global economy.
So when we talk about building creative economies, we can’t only talk about creative economies – we have to see this sector as integral to the totality of how we deliver sustainable growth and improved lives.
That’s because innovation is driven by creative entrepreneurialism – whether that is in immersive technology, tourism, clean energy, healthcare or design. The ability of the digital-creative industries to engage young people in education and then offer them opportunities to build successful knowledge-based businesses means that the entrepreneurial, start-up and creative ecosystem grows and impacts across the whole of economy and society. The World Economic Forum recently produced a report entitled The Future of Jobs. In it, they concluded that the most important skills for the new landscape of the 4IR were Creativity, Critical Thinking and Complex Problem Solving.
Many technology leaders are now talking about the central role that Liberal Arts – and not necessarily STEM – graduates will have in the development, design and implementation of this new industrial and technological landscape.
Technology has had a transformative effect on creative practice and business models. Aside from the obvious impact I’ve already mentioned, technology has seen creative businesses take a leading role in the disruption of other sectors. Look at the impact that immersive content has had on construction, healthcare and tourism. The development of those technologies has seen creative producers help doctors better understand disease and trauma, and deliver accurate diagnoses, helped architects visualise and understand the impact of building design on its users and helped countries, regions and cities remotely engage and attract tourist visitors and foreign revenue.
That revolution is continuing apace and shows no sign of slowing.
For companies and institutions of all size, having a ‘digital strategy’ was once central to how the commercial opportunities of new technologies could be embraced and integrated into business strategy. The complete ubiquity of digital technologies has made having a ‘digital strategy’ now seem rather outdated and naïve. Instead we need to think about having a ‘creative strategy’ – a mechanism for integrating creative innovation into every aspect of commercial, governmental and societal activity. Creative economies then are moving into the realm once held by the digital and tech sector - a core infrastructure for modern life and a driver of transformation.
This Creative Transformation of an economy – as a similar concept to Digital Transformation – is where the 4IR evolves into the Second Creative Revolution – or 2CR. You might also see this as something of a Second Renaissance.
Scholars have debated what the Renaissance was and when it began, most accepting that it began in Italy about 1300 and lasted for about three centuries. It is most often recognised as a creative revival, an outpouring of cultural and critical thinking, of artistic and literary accomplishment. This explosion of creative thinking however was also responsible for a hugely innovative period, with impacts across the whole of society.
The Renaissance led to the economy of western Europe changing from one based on barter to one based on money. Innovations and improvements in ship design and navigational instruments resulted in the expansion of seaborne trade. Industry, especially textiles, metals, and shipbuilding, also grew through innovations in materials and production methods.
Early forms of capitalism such as mass production and specialization emerged. To finance growing trade and industry, banking expanded. Towns expanded, bringing change to people in surrounding areas. Lines were blurred between classes as money replaced the medieval social system based on caste and service. Moreover, a new merchant class arose who generously supported Renaissance learning and art.
This explosion of innovation was born of the creative and critical thinking that characterised Renaissance Italy and then spread to the developing economies of Northern Europe, having an equally significant impact in those countries.
The parallels with today are striking but we have to emphasise a note of caution in terms of the democratisation of this creative and technological explosion. The impending negative impacts of 4IR on developing countries is becoming clear, with increasingly uneven development a distinctly plausible scenario for strategic planners in global financial and non-governmental institutions.
When we think then about achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, it is crucial to understand the impact that digital-creative economies can have across the entire spectrum of economic, educational and societal development. This is especially true when we look at Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) and Small Island developing States (SIDS).
Whilst this is far from an easy fix, what the digital-creative industries can do is set the educational and innovation foundations that these regions can use to build skills and talent – and then crucially retain that talent. They offer the most effective way of engaging an often disengaged youth whose lack of opportunity leads to disaffection and social problems.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Second Creative Revolution offer the opportunity to build an economy based on digital, creative, technological skills that will drive innovation, entrepreneurialism and growth. The UNCTAD Creative Economy meeting last month felt like a real and significant step in this direction – we just have a long road in front of us.
 World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report, 2018  Herweijer, C., Combes, B., Johnson, L., McCargow, R., Bhardwaj, S., Jackson, B. and Ramchandani, P., 2018. Enabling a sustainable Fourth Industrial Revolution: how G20 countries can create the conditions for emerging technologies to benefit people and the planet (No. 2018-32). Economics Discussion Papers.