Why Australia needs a creativity commission

PwC chief creative officer Russel Howcroft
By PwC chief creative officer Russel Howcroft | 14 January 2019
Russel Howcroft

Australia, we have a problem. Our economy is not growing fast enough. Our old modes of generating growth are becoming increasingly less relevant. But there is a solution: creativity needs to become central to the national agenda.

Today, Australia is the world's 13th largest economy and a member of the G20. However, we’re going backwards. According to PwC’s 2050 Report, by 2030 Australia will drop to 29th, roughly swapping positions with Bangladesh.

The era of resting on natural assets to fuel our prosperity is over. We have to move up the value chain, and to do that, we need to find ways to better harness our human assets.

Creativity can, and should, be one of our most significant drivers of future growth and competitiveness. But many still think creativity belongs in the sandpit and not on the spreadsheet. We need to find a way for creativity’s power to be front and centre in our economy.

Creativity is not a soft word. International predictive data about work released by the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) shows that creative jobs are likely to see a growth rate of 87 per cent by 2030, compared with a sharp decline across more traditional industries.

At home, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that the creative sector contributes an astonishing $86.7 billion to our GDP. The role of creativity is to build value, and we need to start taking it seriously, as seriously as P&L, dividends and working capital.

Creativity matters socially – for our education, well-being and the cohesion of our community – and it matters culturally, to help define who we are and how we share our story with the world.

And when I say creativity, I’m not just talking about “the Arts”. Creativity covers everything from the core cultural arts – like fine art and filmmaking – to the more commercially-orientated creative industries such as architecture and advertising. It also extends to creative practices in other industries, such as the changing role of service design across all sectors.

In the new economy, creativity is a key driver of commercial competitiveness and edge. It is core to the way we develop and support ideas, find commercial opportunities, create business models and build relationships with consumers across the whole economy.

Why aren’t we investing in, empowering and harnessing creativity across our entire economy, in business, in schools, in communities and in public policy?

Part of the problem – and opportunity – lies in our education system. Last year, the United Nations ranked Australia a lowly 39th out of 41 affluent nations in providing quality education.

Our focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) is limiting us. Ironically, the countries across our region that have been known for investment in STEM are now focusing on creativity.

Last year, the National University of Singapore undertook a massive research project to determine what skills would better prepare its graduates for the world. It found that future generations won’t need technical skills, but rather “soft” skills and drivers of creativity.

We need to expand our focus from STEM to STEAM. We need to elevate the Arts to supercharge our children’s learning and train our kids in creativity.

Consider this. When Australia wasn’t performing in sport, the government created a commission to deal with it. The Australian Sports Commission develops excellence and promotes participation in sports by all Australians.

When productivity was an issue for Australia in the late 1990s, the government established a Productivity Commission to review, conduct research and give advice.

I believe we now need to establish a Creativity Commission. It would have four primary functions:

  • To support the growth of the creative economy.
  • To build creative capacities and ideas to help inform policy, initiatives and industry.
  • To recognise the interests of the community and how we can use creativity to facilitate better outcomes for the nation.
  • To support the development of creative and internationally competitive Australian businesses.

Such a move is not without precedent. Other countries are already heavily invested in highly productive programs. The UK, for example, has global innovation foundation NESTA, which started with a £250 million endowment to harness creativity, the Creative Industries Council and Creative Britain to build all these possibilities.

We need to find a new way – an Australian way – of supporting creative approaches and persuading our decision-makers to think beyond the short-term and the politically marketable.

A Creativity Commission would bring our best creative thinkers together to devise and support new ways to address our biggest challenges in game-changing ways. It would be our Future Fund of ideas, not just dollars.

The new body would help remove barriers and empower businesses across sectors to collaborate and engage in creative thinking. Critically, it would fund start-ups, kickstart new ventures and help realise the IP that emerges from its work – empowering ideas through action.

Finally, it would help supercharge and sell what we are doing across all areas of government and business.

I want to see Australia become creative in tangible ways that benefit us all, and to build on our talents to generate a sustainable competitive advantage. Let’s embed creativity in our institutions, our government, our schools.

We need great ideas, and the capacity to realise them, and we need more self-belief. A Creativity Commission would go a long way to achieving just that.

By PwC chief creative officer and Australian Film Television and Radio School chair Russel Howcroft

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