Building the Creative Economy

These are tough economic times in the US and UK. But in such times opportunities arise and new thinking takes root. And I sense that now is the time for the creative industries to move from the margins to the mainstream of our thinking. As the world becomes increasingly connected, so demand for quality content in English will grow. It is a big competitive advantage for the US and UK. But it will only work if the digital world has copyright and other systems to support creativity.

These were among the questions discussed at the first gathering last month in Liverpool, the 2008 European Capital of Culture, of 20 leading figures from the creative and financial sectors to discuss the future of creativity and business.

This was the first meeting of c&binet, a new international network, and not-for-profit venture that the British government is supporting, designed to bring focus and leadership to exactly the kinds of questions that are central to the future of the creative economy.

The companies represented around the table in Liverpool illustrated the size, diversity and vitality of creative industry in 2008. From Universal Music to Conde Nast and from IDEO to BBC Worldwide, they generate more than $10 billion in annual revenue and are home to many of the most exciting creative talents in the world today.

The first c&binet forum will take place in the UK in October 2009, and will seek to address many of these issues and offer a progressive agenda that meets the real needs of creative business leaders. The aim, in time, is to create one of the most significant and relevant events in the international business calendar. I also hope c&binet will offer us the chance to establish a new US-UK dialogue with the new US administration on many of these challenges.

The digital age has created huge opportunities for creative business. It has reduced costs, given birth to new creative tools, enabled new business models, facilitated new forms of creative collaboration and generated a new dynamic between the creator and the consumer - co-creation. However, it is also threatening to undermine the value of much of this work.

International debate has not kept pace with the speed of technological change and globalization. As one of the guests put it very succinctly, 'creativity is R&D'; we need businesses and governments that have a much stronger understanding of the creative process - better to invest in it and protect it.

Much of the conversation at the c&binet debate centered on the balance between human beings as creators, consumers and citizens. People have been empowered as consumers, but not enough as creators. Everything is in favor of the consumers who devour content. We have not empowered the other side of the equation, those who create it and get value from having created it. The risk is that if the best creative content is available for free, nobody pays for the really important things in life and we are all impoverished as citizens. If we are to formulate a way through some of these issues then there must be more of a shared approach to capturing creative value in this digital age.

Education offers many of the answers. Business leaders, investors and creative entrepreneurs can certainly benefit from a better understanding of what each side requires from the other to deliver world-class creative work. More broadly, there needs to be new focus in our schools on how to encourage creative thinking. Barack Obama's election campaign had some interesting things to say about the creative component of education while the Chinese government is now wrestling with the challenge of how to build a system which values creativity. Creative education has a key role to play preventing young people from disengaging with school and society by helping them fulfil their creative potential. As one of the c&binet ambassadors pointed out, someone who posts a video on YouTube isn't usually looking to get paid, they're usually doing it because the act of creation makes them happy.

The discussion in Liverpool has given us the starting point, but the conversation must be much, much wider and will take place on the c&binet website to ensure that everyone with a stake in the future of the economy has a say in how c&binet evolves.