« Reminder: Live Math Chat Today, 1 p.m Eastern | Main | Mozart, Beethoven, and Student Creativity »

Creativity and the U.S. Economy


Earlier this week, I attended meetings at the National Science Board on what schools can do to nurture students' innovative skills. As America's foreign competitors spawn new businesses with the help of a growing class of entrepreneurs—and cheap labor—some argue that U.S. growth will increasingly depend on innovation, the kind that can drive business and produce breakthroughs across society.

But how do you measure a nation's collective innovative and creative power and its connection to economic growth?

One such measure, albeit an imperfect one, was mentioned during a presentation at the science-board meeting by R. Keith Sawyer, of Washington University in St. Louis. It's data from the World Intellectual Property Organization, and it seeks to measure the link between "creative industries" and countries' gross domestic product and employment.


As you can see from the chart to the right, the United States ranks higher than any country in the link between creative industries and GDP. Sawyer, in his presentation, pointed to the United States' relative strength in this area, but argued that in the future, it's likely that the American education system will have to do more just for the U.S. to keep up.

I'm sure you're asking, well, what is this chart really showing? As Sawyer readily acknowledges, the definition is fuzzy. It appears to focus on "copyright-based" industries, though he also believes this could include manufacturing of tools for distribution, such as CD players and VCRs. Presumably, it would also include video-game production and the music business.

During Sawyer's presentation at the science-board event, one attendee speculated that the United States' apparent creative economic power might be driven primarily by Hollywood. Sawyer said that link was certainly one explanation. You'll also notice a couple countries with economies far less advanced than the United States, like the Philippines, faring pretty well in terms of creative employment. Sawyer speculates that this could be explained by the aforementioned manufacturing of entertainment equipment.

After you're had a look at the chart, and the accompanying WIPO report, give me your thoughts. You can also read more of Sawyer's views on innovation and the economy here. (Click on the table above, from the WIPO, for an enhanced image.)


I wonder if sawyer is drawing on Richard Florida's work on the rise and flight of the "creative class." Florida rates cities according to a "creativity index" (if I'm remembering the term correctly) that correlates very highly with their economic vitality.

Florida sees tolerance as an essential prerequisite for creativity--and therefore a driver of economic success.

Of course, the definition of "creativity" tends to get very fuzzy and all-encompassing.

This week I messed up and mistakenly concluded that my videotape and DVD player was broken. When I searched the school for a working one, I couldn't find a teacher who had set theirs up. Teachers today have been so intimidated and so pressured to do nonstop test prep that, in my experience, we're getting a whole new generation of teachers who don't use video. Which leads to a double problem. The classics in video have been forgotten, so are we training a generation of administrators who couldn't recognize excellence if they saw it?

what do we drive out of the clasrrom next - satire?, jokes?, music?, andything that kids enjoy?

Forgot to give a link to Richard Florida's work: http://www.creativeclass.com/

I'm very happy to see this debate spreading across the US. In 2007 I took a sabbatical away from the UN (I worked at UNESCO for 15 years) to map the UK's policy structure in nurturing its creative industries.

I compared the UK's national policy model "upwards" to international policy structures and "downwards" to understand its effects on individual practitioners. WIPO's definition of the creative industries but so too is the EU definition which combines the best practices of the entirety of the EU membership.

Interestingly the UK policy structure reaches across education, business and trade departments. It's a well coordinated national, regional and local initiative. It's a model worth investigating. My thesis is published here: http://theideafeed.com/creative_economy/ on a cc license.

I would love to see this debate spread further. Congrats!

Keith Sawyer here. Yes, there are many different measures like this. The WIPO measure I cited includes only copyright and thus leaves out patent-based or "trade secret" based innovations. Clearly these are economically quite big in the U.S. including for export: computer software, pharmaceuticals, genetically engineered seeds. But the reason I chose to use this one in my talk is that WIPO applied a standard methodology to multiple countries; it's hard to find measures that are applied consistently in different countries.

Richard Florida's 2002 book estimates "the creative core" at 12 percent of the U.S. workforce, and the larger "creative class" at 30 percent.

Regarding the Phillipines and Mexico: I suggest looking at the ratio between employment and GDP. They are high in employment but low in GDP, suggesting low-wage occupations are driving up the numbers. It's better to have the ratio go the other way (like the U.S.) implying high-wage creative occupations.

If all this "creativity" is driven by Hollywood, how creative can things be when that market is driven by ticket sales? Not that movies can't be creative, but just having special amazing special effects is not enough for me! I agree that our children need to learn more skills in wading their ways through the mass of movies made and targeted to them. Don't forget the toy factor, where toys and products are marketed before anyone even sees the movie! Film history, interpretation, and criticism should be a part of all elementary classrooms--US movies are an enormous cultural product!

I wonder if teachers would be open to an experiment regarding effects on classroom performance after celebrating World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 - 21. Businesses say that the ideas per brand increase, as so does morale.

What measures are important to teachers for which they might be able to ascertain qualitatively (at first) as a result of doing what they can to encourage students to use their creativity to make the world a better place and to make their place in the world better too?

Comments are now closed for this post.


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments