The Stories We Tell
Growing up in Appalachia in the 1970s, I was surrounded by the beauty of nature and the power of storytelling.
Running through the hillsides around my grandparents’ tiny country store, I would imagine myself as a magical creature exploring a new world – finding the most extraordinary things in the rocks, creeks, and trees around me. The technology of television boosted my imagination in a different way.
The Carol Burnett Show. Wonder Woman. Good Times. Alice. Sonny & Cher. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The Electric Company. These shows taught me that the extraordinary could be found in the ordinary.
Two shows that profoundly impacted me were The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
“A man barely alive… we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man. Better than he was before. Better…stronger…faster.”
“A woman barely alive… we can rebuild her. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic woman. Better than she was before. Better…stronger…faster.”
These opening credits instilled in me a sense of wonder and a belief that new things are possible when human creativity is augmented with technology. But today, our media and technology landscape is leading us down a different path.
We are facing economic uncertainty, social disconnection, and reports of diminishing creativity. The way the media portrays cultural shifts like the great resignation and quiet quitting suggests that we are too focused on what people are running from rather than what they are running towards.
America is in a tenuous position, but we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can reclaim our sense of wonder and continue to build a nation fueled by human creativity. Better than it was before. More innovative, more inclusive, and more transformational.
Just as The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman were based on the story of rebuilding injured bodies into something far beyond the ordinary, the time is right for a system’s evolution in creativity skills and innovation processes – a Creativity New Deal. An ambitious project to build a creativity infrastructure to enhance the transformational potential of American ingenuity.
Evidence across many research disciplines suggests a Creativity New Deal is key to a brighter future for America. It is a vision that is both aspirational and achievable. It is a call to action for all of us to work together to create a more innovative and inclusive nation.
Three Critical Evolution Areas of a Creativity New Deal
The Creativity New Deal (CND) is inspired by Roosevelt’s New Deal, which transformed our country during the Great Depression. Enabled by AI and other modern tools alongside investments in social wellbeing workplace processes proven to transform latent creativity skills into new opportunities, a CND would build and shape America’s creativity skills infrastructure for the next century.
Evolution Area One: Reframing Creative Industries as Infrastructure
America finds itself at a crossroads. The demands of the future of work are already beginning to shift how many view the creative industries. The evolution is now in process, moving us from thinking of the creative industries as a standalone sector to fertile ground for cultivating critical innovation skills— like creative thinking, cognitive flexibility, curiosity, self-awareness, social wellbeing, and resilience— across all industry sectors.
Developing a creativity infrastructure to guide this transition isn’t just a policy or program, but an ethos, just like the interstate highway system was an ethos celebrating mobility and commerce. Understanding creative industries as infrastructure cultivates creativity and social well-being at the heart of organizational frameworks, sparking business innovation and unlocking unprecedented new economic value through human flourishing. A good foundation exists, with major tech players like Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft valuing human creativity as a competitive advantage at the onset of a brain economy characterized by the triple transformations of climate, AI, and culture.
Now, a broader set of national pilot projects in all industries is needed, and a more integrative national metrics dashboard is needed to guide and scale successes ranging from corporate to entrepreneurial ecosystems.
As the world evolves, resilience and creativity are non-negotiables. These attributes are vital, defined by cognitive flexibility, problem-solving, emotion regulation, and positive affect, among other brain-related skills and processes. By understanding our creative industries as a support sector to accelerate economic growth and human flourishing across every sector, America has an immense advantage that should not be squandered.
Evolution Area Two: Future of Work and the Expanding Role of Artists
The convergence of artificial intelligence (AI) with culture is ushering in a transformative epoch of extreme cultural and technological change reminiscent of the post-WWII era. As we navigate, America has a singular chance to reclaim its legacy of wonder for continued prosperity in the future of work unfolding around us. By metamorphosing human creativity into a robust mechanism for societal prosperity and economic vigor, we can chart a revolutionary course for tomorrow’s workforce.
The arts have long mirrored our societal imagination, painting vivid pictures of our dreams, emotions, and collective aspirations. As we sail through the turbulent waters of change, delineated by the ever-shifting paradigms of work, the arts, too, must display an equal measure of adaptability and evolution.
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report (2023) elucidates myriad avenues where the arts can be rejuvenated and redefined amidst the challenges of a technologically rich landscape, evolving job paradigms, and fluctuating labor markets.
The WEF report projects a potent transformation powered by technology in the forthcoming half-decade. An overwhelming majority of businesses, approximated at 85%, foresee adopting nascent technologies, the ripples of which will undeniably influence the arts. Innovative technologies, especially big data, AI, and cloud computing, on the adoption radar of three-fourths of businesses, offer tools to innovate both the consumption and creation of art radically.
A flux in job profiles and requisite skills will characterize the upcoming phase of work. As traditional roles wane, new vocations will sprout, reshaping nearly a quarter of the job landscape in the next five years. The arts arena will not remain untouched. This synergy between human creativity and machines in the arts portends a transformational age of innovation.
In this emerging era, the arts, imbued with technological vitality, promise to survive and flourish. By embracing these winds of change and harnessing the potent blend of human and machine prowess, the arts can continue to be the soulful reflection of our evolving societal transformation.
The harmony between human ingenuity and AI offers a tantalizing promise for our collective future. AI can craft infinite permutations with its computational might. Yet, the human spirit, the discerning, creative cognition, and analytical minds of artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs mold these permutations into tangible possibilities of groundbreaking, innovative visions. Our journey in understanding what is possible is just beginning, beckoning explorers from myriad disciplines.
For those artists who choose to engage, a Creativity New Deal offers an artistic “big bang” to move from isolated silos into pulsating, interdisciplinary vocations built upon honing the skills indispensable for the future of work. This is a paradigm shift from “arts as usual” and a pivot toward investing in our collective sense of wonder across the American enterprise.
Evolution Area Three: Evolving the Role of Cities & Innovation Districts
Innovation districts are hubs of creativity, collaboration, and technological advancement. But to reach their full potential, they need to be more than just a collection of businesses. They are dynamic urban and economic development engines, promising dense hubs of creativity, collaboration, and technology. But their physical architecture and design alone are not enough. To truly realize their potential, innovation districts and each company within them should consider development through an intentional plan for Social Brain Capital – a holistic, neuroscience-inspired framework for building innovation strategies encompassing the social wellbeing of employees, customers, and stakeholders.
“In today’s rapidly evolving employment landscape, the fusion of cognitive creative capacity and social wellbeing of organizations – what we define as Social Brain Capital – is an innovation imperative. Social Brain Capital is a composite measure of cognitive and social resources, abilities, and skills that enable inclusive collaboration of a defined group working together to transform their latent creativity into new, measurable enterprise value.”Theo Edmonds, Culture Futurist™
Why is this approach so crucial?
Employee well-being and company performance are inextricably linked.
Companies that invest in their employees’ holistic well-being benefit from heightened productivity, loyalty, and creativity. Social Brain Capital recognizes that innovation isn’t just about having the best tech or built environment; it’s about cultivating environments where individuals feel mentally and physically nurtured.
Innovation districts thrive on stakeholder engagement.
From suppliers to end consumers to investors, the extent to which stakeholders feel involved and heard can be the difference between a thriving and stagnant ecosystem. Companies that align their operations with the expectations and values of their stakeholders foster deeper trust and collaboration. This engagement becomes a partnership where stakeholders are as invested in the company’s success as they are in the broader vision of the innovation district.
Brand reputation and corporate responsibility weigh heavily on consumer choices.
Companies within innovation districts can distinguish themselves as pioneers by demonstrating their commitment to social brain capital. A well-defined, actionable plan can set a company apart, drawing consumers and top-tier talent passionate about a more holistic approach to business.
Innovation districts are communities.
Beyond the sleek buildings and cutting-edge labs, they are a collective of people, ideas, and values. When each company commits to human flourishing, it’s not just about individual growth; it’s about fostering a sense of belonging and shared purpose. Employees, customers, and stakeholders become part of a larger community bound by shared ambitions and values.
Ultimately, the success and vitality of innovation districts go beyond infrastructure and urban planning. It’s about the collective and individual commitment of every resident entity. By ensuring each company within these districts has its roadmap for Social Brain Capital development, we’re enhancing the potential of individual businesses and solidifying the entire district’s success.
Without this intention, dedication, and grounding, even the most promising innovation districts might falter, reduced to architectural wonders without the heartbeat of purpose.
Beyond the Three Evolution Areas: Cultural & Technological Change
Beyond the three areas of evolution explored above, an all-encompassing cultural context must be considered. Namely, it is the stories we’ll tell about the spaces and places that give presence to the environment in which work happens.
A recent study that caught my attention highlighted a striking difference between the US and the UK regarding the correlation between home-based creative activities and mental well-being. While such activities led to a marked reduction in symptoms of depression in the UK study, the US data showed no such association, save for gardening.
This discrepancy points to a critical truth: culture influences how people perceive what is possible and valuable in their lives. A culturally responsive, multi-industry, public-private sector creativity infrastructure that fosters a deeper collaboration between the arts, science, business, and other sectors would elevate creativity as America’s core future of work differentiator, offering a sustainable, global competitive advantage.
In today’s economy, leaders everywhere are in search of new strategies to drive innovation and foster employee well-being during this time of extreme cultural and technological change. America’s workforce challenges are immense but actionable. For instance, Public Health Advisory by Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy highlighted the imperative of social wellbeing in the workplace as a national priority. Still, it went the extra step of synthesizing diverse scientific disciplines into a road map that organizations can adapt and use.
For artists who choose to engage, this is a moment of opportunity not seen in generations. Recent years have witnessed an increased emphasis on the arts’ pivotal role in addressing societal challenges in the one place where Americans will spend more of their waking life than any other— at work!
More than mere economic centers, modern workplaces, which involve over 160 million individuals in the U.S. alone, profoundly shape our lives. They influence our mental and emotional health, ambitions, and a broader sense of purpose. Drawing from the Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing, it becomes increasingly evident that leaders must craft environments that amplify holistic well-being and engender a sense of community.
Emerging think+do tanks like Imaginator Academy stand testament to the boundless potential emerging through arts-engaged, science-grounded workplace strategies. This type of approach to engaging diverse work communities is more than theoretical. It’s rooted in the field-building experience of creative placemaking initiatives like ArtPlace America and the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program. For over a decade, these programs made monumental strides in merging art with equitable community planning and development. Their exemplary work showcased artists as indispensable contributors to community evolution. Still today, Our Town continues to thrive as America’s premier creative placemaking program.
Drawing inspiration from these programs and integrating insights from cognitive, behavioral, and social brain science, pro-social leadership, social wellbeing research, and technology, tailored arts strategies like Creative Placehealing offer an incredible opportunity toward repurposing knowledge into more evolved, practical, and impactful business strategies for mutually reinforcing workplace creativity with wellbeing.
These and other approaches pioneered in the arts provide businesses with a concrete roadmap to foster innovation and address the pressing challenge of toxic workplace cultures. To achieve this purpose, business leaders must first shift their frame of reference to envision a future where art isn’t a mere afterthought but intricately woven into businesses’ core fabric, catalyzing creativity, innovation, and holistic wellbeing.
Comprehensive Blueprint for Elevating American Creativity Skills by 25% Within a Decade
We know that creativity is the foundational capital of our burgeoning brain economy. As technology relentlessly evolves and globalization compresses market borders, the urgency to generate original ideas isn’t just a virtue but an economic necessity. From developing transformative technologies to ideating consumer-friendly design, creativity powers the wheels of innovation and, consequently, economic prosperity. Beyond the fiscal scope, creativity fosters individual wellbeing and societal cohesion.
However, facing challenges like diminishing business dynamism, inadequate R&D investments, and widening skill deficiencies, America’s creative and innovative leadership is at risk. Securing a creative future involves a multipronged approach focused on education, research, entrepreneurship, and culture-building.
Increasing national creativity skills is a multiplier for potential wide-reaching effects on national wellbeing. It’s not just about economic growth; it’s about fostering a society that’s happier, healthier, more united, and better equipped to face future challenges.
The impact of a 25% increase in American creativity on national wellbeing is profound, multifaceted, and extends beyond just economic factors. Below are a few potential impacts:
Mental Health and Personal Fulfillment:
- Increased Engagement: Creativity often leads to a flow state, where individuals are fully immersed in an activity. This can enhance personal satisfaction and happiness.
- Problem-Solving: Enhanced creativity provides individuals with tools to manage life’s challenges, potentially reducing stress and anxiety levels.
- Expression and Catharsis: Creative outlets, be it arts, writing, or other forms, offer a means for individuals to express themselves, process emotions, and achieve cathartic releases.
Social Cohesion and Community Building:
- Strengthened Community Bonds: Creative community projects or initiatives can bring diverse groups together, fostering understanding and unity.
- Cultural Appreciation: A more creative society often appreciates and celebrates diverse cultures, leading to inclusivity and mutual respect.
Education and Lifelong Learning:
- Enhanced Learning: Creative education methods can enhance understanding and retention. Students become more engaged and curious.
- Lifelong Learning: A creative society values continuous learning, leading to a populace constantly seeking to grow and evolve.
Health and Physical Wellbeing:
- Creative Therapies: Techniques like art therapy, music therapy, and dance therapy have been shown to aid healing and improve mental health.
- Active Lifestyles: Creative activities like dance and theater promote physical activity.
- Job Creation: As previously discussed, enhanced creativity can lead to the emergence of new industries and expansion of existing ones, leading to more job opportunities.
- Increased Income: Jobs in creative sectors often command higher salaries, especially as demand for unique skills grows.
Environment and Sustainability:
- Innovative Solutions: Creative thinking can lead to innovative solutions for environmental challenges, promoting sustainability.
- Appreciation for Nature: Many creative endeavors are inspired by nature, leading to a society that values and wishes to protect its natural surroundings.
Political and Civic Engagement:
- Informed Citizenry: A creative and critically thinking populace is likelier to be informed and engaged in civic matters.
- Constructive Discourse: Creative individuals can approach divisive topics in novel ways, fostering more constructive discourse.
Global Reputation and Soft Power:
- Cultural Exports: A more creative nation can produce world-renowned art, music, literature, and media, enhancing its global reputation.
- Diplomacy: Creativity in diplomacy can lead to novel solutions for international challenges, enhancing a nation’s standing on the world stage.
WHERE OUR STORIES GO FROM HERE
At the intersection of possibility and action, America finds itself in a moment of choice. Creativity isn’t just the currency of the future economy; it’s the lifeblood of a society worth aspiring to. This is not merely a matter of leveraging our nation’s storied business prowess; it’s about reclaiming the sense of wonder that once made every cardboard box a spaceship and every backyard a universe. America is a place where creativity serves as more than economic fuel; it is the very marrow of our collective existence. By investing in a national initiative to elevate creativity and social wellbeing across all sectors, we don’t just improve our economy; we sculpt a world where everyone has the space to work, learn, heal, and explore. The journey starts by reigniting our individual and collective sense of wonder—one sector, one company, one community, one heartbeat at a time.
Theo Edmonds is a Culture Futurist™ | Creativity Strategist | Social Brain Capital Builder | Artist+Poet. They are the Co-Founder of Imaginator Academy, IDEAS xLab, and lead the global Creativity Infrastructure Working Group for the Brain Capital Alliance.