Recently, I was invited to Estonia to speak in its capital at the Tallinn Music Week Creative Impact Conference. That's right -- a major Estonian music festival also hosted a concurrent summit on society, creative economies and city building.
The music festival and summit is produced by a talented team under the direction of an incredibly gifted force of nature named Helen Sildna. I can't praise Helen and her team enough for pulling together such an extraordinary festival. And to top it all off the conference was launched by a speech from Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid who spoke passionately about the role of creativity in society.
Speakers at the Creativity For Change Forum, part of an earlier iteration of the Tallinn Music Week in Estonia, on April 1, 2016. (Photo: Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images)
I was invited to present perspectives on creativity and city building, an area of focus for my consulting practice Creative Change Management Consulting. During one of the final panels, I was asked about the challenges and opportunities presented by creative culture hubs. Helen and her team had pulled together a remarkable flow of topics and, rather conveniently, these topics provided the framework for my response. Before I lay out my answer, let us define creative hubs.
The British Council defines a creative hub as "a place, either physical or virtual, which brings creative people together. It is a convener, providing space and support for networking, business development and community engagement within the creative, cultural and tech sectors."
City as a creative hub
Various perspectives were shared at the conference about our cities themselves as creative hubs. While I agree with this perspective, many of our cities are stuck with long-standing design issues that can segregate groups of people and limit exposure to a diversity of perspectives, skills, cultures and value systems. Applying lessons learned from past errors in city building, we must ensure creative hubs are radically diverse and challenging. Otherwise, the learning and inspiration that these hubs can offer will be limited.
The hub must serve as a profound catalyst not only for its members and resident participants, but also for greater society.
Future skills and education
The conference featured a fascinating discussion on education for next generation citizens and leaders. I do believe that creative hubs must intentionally develop training programmes and applied opportunities for both next generation citizens and creative leaders. Beyond the facility, though, the hub must serve as a profound catalyst not only for its members and resident participants, but also for greater society. Imagine the potential education, experiential and e-learning opportunities one could develop in partnership through a hub with hundreds of creative businesses, artists and organizations.
Country and city branding
Globally, there is tremendous interest in cities and countries being recognized as creative powerhouses. There are many reasons for this interest, chief among them the rapid rise of technology which will likely continue to eliminate or reduce human computational or processing jobs that can now be better performs by a machine. This will require a professional shift for our workforce to focus on creativity and other qualitative skills.
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Additionally, cities and countries compete to attract and retain talent and investment. This requires a focus on creative and cultural differentiation; otherwise there is not much difference between one place and the next. Applying these lessons to creative hubs, we must ensure hubs focus on building on the unique aspects of the local creative ecosystem while also ensuring that investment and development emphasizes these points of differentiation. Following the pack will not lead to success.
Closing gaps and silos
This is a real area of concern for our increasingly polarizing society. While incubators and clusters are potentially great for applied or theoretical creative, economic or social development, we risk further division of talent and opportunities if we develop separate hubs or incubators for technology, medical research, social innovation or creativity, or if we do not very intentionally connect these hubs and their inhabitants/participants. A hub cannot only be about creating a cluster of identical or like-minded individuals.
Quality is the new cool
This discussion centered around the idea that authenticity and doing things extraordinarily is the future and what society is demanding. In terms of hubs, I do believe that they deliver well on authenticity. However, it isn't enough to cluster a number of individuals and organizations together in one building and assume synergistic magic will happen. As we know from existing companies, even having staff down the hall or on another floor can create barriers to collaboration and communication.
Hubs must be about much more than a cool building and a few shared resources.
While some accidental collaborations do result from clusters, really busy organizations and creators likely do not have the time or financial resources to really go big together. As such, it is imperative that hubs have a clear programmatic strategy and commitment to dreaming big and problem solving together. Hubs must be about much more than a cool building and a few shared resources.
While I have raised a few of the pitfalls associated with creative hubs, I remain convinced that they have the potential to be important and essential contributors to our evolving society. They require a big vision, though. Rather than fitting a big idea into an existing building, creative hubs should start with a clear strategy on what the hub commits to in terms of social, creative and economic contribution. The physical and financial resource plan should serve the strategy, not the other way around.
With the challenges ahead, we need smart, diverse, inclusive, challenging, unsettling conversation and action more than ever. Perhaps our creative hubs, research institutes, policy think-tanks and social innovation centres can find ways to come together, to debate, to build. Perhaps even a music festival in Estonia can serve as a catalyst to change the world.
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A stroll alongside nature is like playtime for adults -- in the same way that children experience some of their most imaginative moments on a playground or in a sandbox, adults can utilize the physical space to let their minds wander freely and stumble across any idea that arrives organically. And keeping moving proves far more productive than the alternative. Researchers at Stanford University recently found that walking helps boost creative inspiration by 60 percent when compared to sitting.
Set those recipe cards aside and see what new cuisine combinations you come up with by just using what’s in your pantry and refrigerator. Creating meals for different times of the day or for different occasions can really open your mind to the infinite possibilities within the culinary world and beyond. "Just like making music or poetry, cooking requires understanding interconnectedness and harmonies," said Faisal Hoque, author of "Everything Connects: How To Transform And Lead In The Age Of Creativity, Innovation And Sustainability," in a recent Business Insider article. "Understanding the relationships between the ingredients and their interactions is crucial to creating a successful dish. This conscious openness is precisely what is at the heart of any creative process regardless of what we do and the medium we use."
Go ahead -- dive head-first into that novel that's been waiting on your bookshelf the past few months! Immersing yourself in the story will require active engagement and concentration, taking you away from the frustration you're feeling from your creativity block. As the story absorbs your attention, you'll visualize its plot line, absorb its message and develop new insights of your own that just might help you find what you've been searching for.
One of the best way to get those creative juices flowing again is to get your blood pumping. Our minds naturally relax when we are physically active, allowing for less stress and more wandering. A recent study found that people who were more active were also more successful creatively, thanks to their ability to solve problems and come up with new ideas.
Surprise, surprise -- we do some of our best creative thinking when we are in a positive mood. According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a happy mood has the ability to help us free our minds, thus opening us up to thinking more imaginatively. "Having a positive mood affects your attention -- it can broaden your visual field, literally," said Dr. Adam Anderson, the lead author of the study. "A negative mood results in tunnel vision, making you focus on just the things you are anxious about -- everything else falls out of this focus and doesn't matter."
If you need a creativity boost in the short term, asking yourself questions that require a little counterfactual thinking could help open your mind to new perspectives. Simply take completed events from the past and imagine different outcomes, deleting existing details while adding some of your own. Re-painting that mental picture can also erase other thoughts currently blocking your mind from where you're trying to go.
Pushing yourself to solve a problem can sometimes drive the solution further away. Instead, let your mind wander. Research has shown not only that the brain continues to work on problem-solving during a daydream, but also that creative solutions may be discovered through general, unconscious thought. So take a break from that aggravating question coursing through your mind -- the answer will come to you soon enough
Psychologist Rollo May once said, “In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude." Often times a lack of inspiration isn't the culprit of a creativity rut, but rather overstimulation in general. Allowing yourself space physically, mentally and emotionally for reflection can create a new sense of clarity as well as a dose of inspiration. Embrace solitude and focus on the thoughts you can suddenly hear among the silence.
Sometimes one of the best ways to sort though a mind racing with thoughts is to put pen to paper and write it all down. Journaling not only provides emotional relief, but also allows for you to see your thoughts in a tangible space and make sense of them from a new perspective. Giving them room to breathe will also allow for new thoughts and ideas to trickle in and fill that newfound space.
For those who are naturally creative minds, it's imperative that you continually challenge yourself with new tasks in order to grow. Novelty can be one of the best sparks for creativity, whether than means testing out a new hobby or avoiding the use of patterns or solutions from the past. Take on each day and project with a new view, and don't be afraid to push those boundaries and see what happens.
The benefits of meditation are far from limited to stress relief and relaxation. A study published in Frontiers in Cognition found that open monitoring meditation (where the individual is receptive to all thoughts and sensations without focusing on any particular one) improved participants' divergent thinking, a key component of the creative process. Not only are college students using meditation to channel their creative power, but many businesses are now jumping on the meditation bandwagon as well, encouraging their employees to use the technique as they search for new ideas.
There's a reason we love gazing up at the sky and out at the sea so much -- the pretty blue hues put us in a relaxed mood and help our minds wander to the most creative of places. A University of British Columbia study found that while the color red helps develop sharper memories, the color blue helps unlock your imagination.
Sometimes it takes a total change of pace and scenery to reset the mind. Whether you can afford to take a few days off or simply enjoy the weekend, make a point to surround yourself with a culture different from your own. A study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that multicultural experiences share a direct connection with creative cognition. So explore a new country, a new state or simply a new neighborhood to open your eyes as well as your mind.
You might find that dull roar in the coffee shop too distracting most days, but that distraction might be just what you need to break free of that persistent mental block. A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that a moderate level of ambient noise actually enhances one's performance on creative tasks. So the next time you sit down with your cup of coffee, welcome the little distractions. You never know where they'll lead you.
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