Are we crushing the creative economy?

Creativity in the fourth industrial revolution.
6 min read
Crushing the Creative Economy

Evolution or Revolution?

Exactly one year ago I wrote that question on our whiteboard at Think to kick off a pivotal discussion about our business, and our brand. I asked my team, “Which one of these two words best describes the state of our industry today?”

After some discussion, I put my stake in the ground by stating that I emphatically believed our industry was undergoing a revolution.

I argued that never before has the marketing and creative services industry experienced such a drastic shift. And trust me I’ve lived through several during my career, including the advent of computers, the internet, digital printing, and the introduction of social media to name just a few. I remember having to send out for typography, waxing strips of type and photo mechanical transfers to boards, hand cutting rubylith overlays, sending carefully crafted art boards out to film houses, then waiting for days for film proofs to come back, only to redo the whole process if the client requested a revision. It was a painstaking and unforgiving craft.

While disruptors in the past have helped make our lives as creative professionals easier, the shift taking place in the industry right now is nothing short of disturbing.

The Commoditization of the Creative Services Industry

What used to be a highly-tailored, client-focused, and deeply-valued service is being seriously compromised and commoditized with the introduction of templated digital solutions and auto generated creative. While these offerings claim to be customized, they’re really mass produced solutions that haven’t been targeted to your business’s needs.

Here’s just a sprinkling of the unbelievable headlines I’ve captured from websites over the past few months:

“Get an amazing custom logo design you’ll love
Our logo maker software makes it easy (and free).”

“Website Builder
Anyone can build a website, no technical skills required.”

“Social Media Marketing
Build relationships and grow your business with a professional social media presence for $10.00/month.”

“Need a Logo?
Get designers competing on your logo design. Tell us what you need, complete your creative brief in a matter of minutes. Receive unique logo designs from around the world within hours. Select and approve your favourite design and download the files.”

This is really hard stuff for people in our creative industry to stomach given that most of us have multiple University and College degrees, plus years of experience under our belts to be able to provide the strategic, customized, and high-caliber solutions we deliver.

Consumers dabble and experiment with these commoditized solutions for one reason—cost. When they soon discover it’s not working for them and realize they’ve wasted valuable time, they wish they’d invested in their brands the right way, from the beginning.

While I’m all about embracing disruptors in the business world, I’m sad to see that what’s happening in our industry is essentially crushing the creative economy.

So what? Why is this bad?

The problem is that the creative economy is being talked about—around the world—as one of the most critical drivers of the latest emerging industrial revolution.

Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The First Industrial Revolution harnessed steam and water power to replace human and animal power with machines, resulting in a transition from hand made products to machine production.

The Second Industrial Revolution was driven by electricity, and inventions including the internal combustion engine, the airplane, telephones, cars, and radio, and led to the age of mass production.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Third Industrial Revolution which started in the 1960s was propelled by digital technology, and the development of the internet.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is described as a blurring of lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. It is characterized by innovations in areas such as driverless cars, smart robotics, materials that are lighter and tougher, and a manufacturing process built around 3D printing.

What is The Creative Economy?

Creativity is playing an integral role in today’s thriving economies, and will continue to become increasingly important during the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution.

John Howkins developed the concept of the creative economy in 2001 to describe economic systems where value is based on novel imaginative qualities rather than the traditional resources of land, labour, and capital.

This video explores what makes a “creative city,” and describes the kind of collaborative conversations, ideas, and sometimes healthy arguments that take place each and every day here at Think.

Essentially, Howkins states that a creative city is about people. It’s about the odd conversations, the creative impulses, the passion, the imagination, the heated debates, and the ideas that eventually spark innovation.

At the heart of today’s changes is the private determination of individuals to think of new and often surprising ideas that might stimulate others. Brought together, these people are fueling the creative economy and shaping the future.

John Howkins

A creative city is not about templated ideas and solutions being presented as unique, and this is why the increasing commoditization of our industry is so troubling.

Creativity and Economic Revitalization

This is the part of my article that I am hoping my parents are reading to ease their minds, because they’ve had to worry about the fate of a highly creative daughter (that would be me) and two highly creative grandchildren (that would be my kids). So read this next paragraph carefully, Mom and Dad!

According to the World Economic Forum (the International organization that engages the foremost political and business leaders to shape global and regional industry agendas), by 2020, creative thinking will be the third most important skill required to survive and thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This might be a good time to ask yourself, “is my business leveraging the power of creativity to survive and thrive in a new world economy? How about our city? Our province?”

Top 10 Skills in 2020


Evolution or Revolution?

After reflecting on this question for a year now, I can truly say that it has led to a transformational shift in how we’re doing business here at Think.

As a creative services business, remaining competitive and thriving in a world where we’re expected to be better, faster, and cheaper is impossible. However, what we do strive to be is smart, nimble, and affordable.

To align with this strategy, we’ve created Think Bundles for small and medium businesses.

Our value-add marketing bundles are packaged to provide businesses and independent professionals with the high-quality branding and marketing solutions they desperately need, at a cost that is affordable. We’ve also introduced flexible and innovative financing options, making it easy for businesses to include professional branding and marketing in their monthly operations costs.

What makes this possible is our unique agency structure, a highly collaborative and nimble approach to working as a team, and a superior level of accountability to our clients—and to each other. We’ve worked diligently as a team to create this culture, and it’s working for us. But more importantly, it’s working for our clients who are reaping rewards that go well beyond just dollars and cents.

It’s a new era, and we hope our creative agency here on the East Coast will continue to create new jobs, and grow our creative economy here at home.