Internationally, government, education and private business leaders forecast that knowledge, creativity and agility are the gold of the future economy.
The epoch of the small creative business hero would seem to be here. However, the reality is that the significant private and public institutions driving our economy still struggle to engage with anything other than each other.
I do believe their good intentions are to collaborate with Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The Australian Government proposes that SMEs are the hot bed of innovation and entrepreneurialism even though they usually lack the capacity required to apply and scale innovation commercially.
Big business hopes to spot the next big thing, when it is still just a “twinkle in an eye”, yet corporations not built to service ideas with no revenue and no major corporate issues. And whilst investors don’t currently flock to creative-based propositions, many sense the magnitude of new market opportunities in sectors such as social gaming and Internet TV.
So what about the creative SMEs? They bring independent ways of looking at things, technical and creative skills, and nimble micro organisational structures to the table. What they lack (in spades) are the resources and spaces within which to play the innovation game.
Looking at current approaches of working with SME businesses, we see a range of one-on-one support programs that are focused on strengthening day-to-day management, but there is a gaping hole in engaging SMEs in innovation. The best we can muster often seems to be pitching competitions. There is a need for inclusive institutional platforms that foster and develop SME innovation talent and contribution.
As an ex-teacher, a children’s metaphor seems pertinent. Children in a playroom with no direction and no toys will end in boredom, fights and no collaboration. However, provided with blocks or clay or pencils, they quickly develop a shared creativity and language. This is possible when an independent creative space is provided with mutually understandable and valued ‘toys’ to play with.
So if we want to elicit small business talent at the economy-wide level – for innovation, research and new business thinking - our task is to design and resource inclusive innovation “sand-pits”! Sandpits with the latest toys, the best knowledge and thinking, and a creative brief… and of course, an IP protocol to make sure the successes and spoils are shared fairly.
After all, isn't the sandpit where, as kids, we all learned to shape the future?
Adam Blake is the Programs & Partnerships Director at the Creative Industries Innovation Centre. He has worked across a range of sectors growing innovative organisations, ventures and partnerships.
T: 02 8217 5006