The Economics of Creativity March 2011
Economists and politicians pay close attention to a country's number of engineers and scientists—total and as a percentage of the workforce—as a proxy for the country's economic competitiveness. Countries in the developed and developing world, therefore, emphasize science education as a means to promote innovation and economic growth. Brazil, for example, now produces 500 000 science graduates and 10 000 PhDs per year. Similarly, China is making substantial investments to shift away from dependence on foreign scientists and research.
Creativity is a vital component of innovation, but perhaps encouraging creativity (outside immediate problem solving) and imagination does not receive the focus it deserves in science and engineering education or in typical large corporations. Even in regional centers of innovation like Silicon Valley, California, creativity and lack of conformity are hallmark characteristics of some of the most noted success stories. John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence), maintains that "Public commitments to STEM—science, technology, engineering, math—education abound all over the [United States]. In the government's mind, these subjects are the key to innovation.... I've begun to wonder recently whether STEM needs something to give it some STE(A)M—an 'A' for art.... What if America approached innovation with more than just technology?"
A study by the Technische Universität München (Munich, Germany) may explain why large organizations searching for a cultural shift to spur creativity often have trouble doing so using their existing means and infrastructure. The author suggests that initiatives that start as experiments rather than rigid projects provide benefits in an increasingly uncertain and rapidly changing global commercial environment. Experiments tend to involve smaller segments of the organization, employ more enthusiastic volunteers, and require more creative benchmarking and organizational approaches.
Perhaps organizations will find better opportunity and success with an engineering workforce augmented by the virtues of art and creativity; they may look to individuals capable of augmenting technological know-how. In a world in which engineering becomes a commodity, creativity is likely to provide the needed competitiveness.