THE BLOG
02/11/2013 04:11 pm ET | Updated Apr 13, 2013

Culture as a Competitive Advantage

During the past decades, everyone from corporations to governments, have begun to see the immense value of creativity in achieving progress thought innovation. After decades of cost reduction and reengineering, leaders are realizing that one cannot save oneself to greatness and no other tool in the toolbox seems to provide the same bang-for-the-buck as a creative economy.

What constitutes a culture's creative advantage? Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and the United States have huge differences in their size, population, as well as in their cultural makeup. So, how do these influence the countries' creativity and provide them with a unique competitive advantage?

Posing this question on a social network for creative professionals generated over one hundred comments. The conversation provided over 150 observations, which could be grouped under 60 headings, confirming some generally acknowledged ideas, as well as, providing some surprising insights into what cultural factors may foster creativity.

As one would expect, creative professionals see creativity as the primary competitive advantage of a region. They deemed a good educational system being the most important ingredients. However, an appreciation of personal expression, ethnic diversity and exposure to a wide range of inspiration are also seen to be the main drivers behind developing creative thinking and skills in a culture. Cultures with egalitarian governance that were tolerant and protected its people were judged to be more creative. Creative cultures were perceived as having a higher level of trust and lower level of fear, fostering risk taking and experimentation. Creative people were also seen as taking more personal responsibility and being more accountable, providing a competitive advantage in itself. Children growing up immersed in high technology and a multi-ethnical environment were seen as absorbing rich tacit knowledge, blossoming and embracing change and treasured progress.

A region's history of challenging constraints, such as tough environmental conditions, weather, limited resources, conflicts and expansionism were perceived as fostering an appreciation for, and development of, creativity. Scandinavia, the UK and U.S. were all seen as regions that had benefited from these conditions, while Australia and Canada were perceived as uneventful regions, having built their economy around the extraction of their resources, and now relying on mining to the detriment of fostering creativity as a competitive advantage.

The practice of religion and having a spiritual relationship to ones environment was also seen as encouraging progress, while central planning, control and regulations combined with bureaucracy and corruption was seen as hampering creativity. Interestingly, a culture of confidence and arrogance was also judged as stifling and seen as preventing experimentation and the development of creativity.

If a creative culture, as identified by creative professionals, is the prerequisite for competitive advantages today, how can manufacturing and service-oriented cultures make this leap?

One approach could be to put the teaching and practicing of design and other creative skills under the microscope and to discover the secret of what makes successful creative professionals. As with the study of behavioral economics, the research into how people actually make decisions as opposed to how they should make them, could turn our thinking upside down by experimenting with how creativity actually takes place. Applying scientific design research could also help cultures to eliminate obsolete thinking and practices and support the building of super sustainable creative economies.