Tuesday, May 11, 2010

State of Creativity: Innovation at Work

As a person who has lived in Texas and has extensive Texan ties, it can be hard to acknowledge the fact that other southwestern states have stolen a march on my "second" home state.  But Texans, as well as North Carolinians, and others should sit up and pay attention to the work underway at Creative Oklahoma.

In the last few years we've seen states and localities begin to understand that creativity and innovation isn't something that merely happens, but can be nurtured and encouraged.  Additionally, creativity and innovation aren't actions that take place only within businesses or schools, but in communities that are engaged. Private industry has a role to play, certainly, but so do secondary educational systems, universities and colleges, the arts, and in many cases state and local governments.  Why do some locations attract the "creative class" that Richard Florida described, and some locations can't seem to retain their best and brightest?  This isn't a challenge that any one organization can solve, but requires a committed effort by a wide range of parties and interests.  Creative Oklahoma demonstrates that story.

According to people I talked with at Creative Oklahoma, the original driver for creativity was in the public schools.  After adopting new teaching concepts and initiatives, the K-12 programs brought new creative thinking into the programs.  Universities in Oklahoma liked what they saw and began to adopt their curriculums as well.  Soon, the government was taking notice and placing a heightened emphasis on creativity and innovation, and a non-profit was formed to encourage and nurture creativity and innovation and create a community that included education, government, business and the arts.  Oklahoma also applied and was accepted to the Districts of Creativity, a partnership of geographies, localities and cities around the world that have made creativity a commitment.  This fall, Oklahoma will host a conference that brings together a number of participants from these Districts.

As you may imagine, the development of creativity and innovation communities is not a simple or organic process.  It takes time, commitment and a lot of desire and vision.  We've seen what Oklahoma can accomplish, and other states like Rhode Island with the Business Innovation Factory are leading the way. 
Some locations - Austin, for example or Silicon Valley, may attract the creative class because they have high technology firms, a good economy, great weather, a livable climate, excellent universities and so forth.  These locations will continue to attract great talent - but that does not preclude any geography, any city, any state from making the investments and creating the communities to encourage and nurture innovation and creativity.  In this case, we believe you can "build it, and they will come" or they will remain.  Just as we don't want to outsource all of our knowledge and skills overseas, we don't want to create innovative cities interspersed with innovation deserts in between.  Every city or state that wants to compete in the 21st century and beyond needs to understand what it takes to attract and retain innovative and creative talent - in all walks of like.  These communities need to include educational systems, universities and colleges, the arts, local non-profits, government and business, organized and committed to the development of a creative, innovation community. 

Oklahoma has demonstrated it can happen, and other states should look to it, and to Rhode Island as examples of what can be done by a small set of very committed individuals.  We can't wait for Shanghai or Bangalore or London to become the centers of innovation and creativity - we need to demonstrate our commitment to innovation and attract the creative class to our shores.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:23 AM


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