Are we creative? Who says?

If you ask my children “what does your Dad do?”, I can guarantee that you’ll hear somewhere between three and five of the following phrases:

“something about an app?”
“not exactly sure”
“messages people on Slack”
“drives a lot”
“argues on the phone with his Dad about the importance of the user experience” *

* this clearly isn’t true. (Sometimes we argue in person instead.)

I can also guarantee, with equally depressing predictability, that they won’t say:

“My Dad, and the organisation he represents, are vital members of both the local and global creative economies, contributing towards a more sustainable future for all.”

Why exactly is that, do you think? Is it because:

  1. they’re 15 and 13
  2. they’re not interested in any of this
  3. they just want their phones back now thanks Dad

Or is it because I’m not actually a participant in the creative economy?

It looks at first glance as though the UN might appear to think so…

Yesterday was the United Nations' World Creativity and Innovation Day.

The day is earmarked to focus on the importance of creativity and innovation in all aspects of human development, with the idea that creative multidisciplinary thinking can help achieve a sustainable future with respect to concerns around environment, diversity and social inclusion.

'Fashion and Sustainability: Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good' – Models parade sustainable clothing representing different regions of the world during the fashion showcase. PHOTO:UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The emphasis here is on the “creative industries” - which, according to the UN, include:

“audiovisual products, design, new media, performing arts, publishing and visual arts”.

The aim is that local creative economies should be supported via broader alignment and implementation of global policies, training opportunities and international cooperation generally.

But this somewhat narrow definition of the creative industries excludes an essential expression of creativity that often remains on the periphery of these discussions: the development of technology.

The creation of software-based solutions and applications represents a form of creativity that can have as much impact - for some - as any piece of art or cultural showcase.

Towards an expanded definition of creativity

When we think of creativity we might visualise an artist with a paintbrush or a musician with an instrument. But we don’t often think of software solution designers, yet they’re certainly also creators, albeit their chosen canvas is the digital world - where they design applications that may revolutionise parts of our daily life.

Application design requires many different creative thinking styles and practices - and it’s rarely a lone endeavour. It involves the coming together of ideas and skills of diverse groups of people, mirroring the collaborative nature of many artistic practices.

Now, I’m not so tone deaf that I would engage in the kind of what-aboutery that might call for an International Day of The-Thing-That’s-Most-Important-To-Me. (You only need to see the amazing work done by Richard Herring every International Women’s Day to see how that pans out.)

Richard Herring raised £150K for Refuge by trolling those calling for an International Men's Day

And indeed, adopting a position in opposition to the UN is hardly something to feel comfortable about...

Whilst yes, their definition of creative economies could be broadened to include explicitly the development of technology, it’s not as if work isn’t being done in this space.

By recognising and supporting tech creativity through specific policies, governments and institutions are already beginning to foster an environment where technological solutions for sustainability, diversity, and inclusion can thrive. This includes funding for tech startups focused on social impact, educational programmes that teach coding and digital skills across all demographics and incentives for businesses that prioritise sustainable tech developments.

OK, so we can consider ourselves creative. But a bit more probing self-reflection is probably in order too.

While it's easy to critique the narrow scope of definitions around what constitutes creativity and innovation, it’s equally important to reflect on how we, as part of the tech community, can truly embody the change we wish to see.

It’s no secret that the tech sector can pursue rapid development and innovation for its own sake. In the zeal to push the boundaries of what’s possible, It’s also important to pause and ensure that any advancements are meaningfully aligned with broader societal goals. Innovation without direction can be like setting sail without a compass.

At Competence Development, we've taken this challenge to heart. Recognising the pivotal role technology can play in achieving sustainable development goals, we have committed ourselves to not just innovate, but to innovate with purpose. Recent projects such as the Multiply Maths programme illustrate this commitment - and we also want to ensure that anyone and everyone in both the Sport and Physical Sector initially (and beyond that in due course) can take advantage of the solutions we’re developing.

'Multiply' Maths Programme

The desire to get it right

Writing this I’m reminded of the challenges of balancing life’s responsibilities: as a business owner, a husband, a father and a son too, desperate to get it right, particularly from the perspective of the people my children will one day become.

In their view now, I’m the perennial phone police, as likely to be staring at Slack as tormented by traffic. But thankfully their inability to be anything but candid enables (or perhaps forces?) a humility that I might not otherwise have enough of. Sometimes the most impact lies in the smallest of interactions, the most local of local economies.

Hopefully the path I tread not only makes our own corner of the digital world a little more innovative - but also teaches them the value of creativity, perseverance (and, occasionally, the value of a good argument about user experience).

And you never know - perhaps, in the future, when asked again about what their dad does, they might just surprise someone by saying:

“He makes a tiny difference, in his own weird, Dad way.”

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