Managing Creative Scarcity (Fighting the Unionization of Ideas & Innovation)
A lot of what we talk about with respect to Internet economics deals with concepts tied to scarcity: The notion that coming off the heels of post-industrialism, demand is still created and/or managed as a result of the inaccessibility - or limited access - to good ideas, products and services. Many thought leaders such as Fred Wilson and Umair Haque have prophesized that this isn't a viable model in the 21st century. I've spoken about this at length in terms of how media can be created and distributed through more collective and open-ended means.
So what about creativity in and of itself?
Creative scarcity, unfortunately, is a precept that is pervasive throughout all aspects of life and business, and is arguably the dominant progeny of industrialization. Sir Ken Robinson has long maintained this position with respect to education. Behavioral economists like Daniel Kahneman and Daniel Pink have discussed how these educational deficiencies affect local and global economies alike. Folks like Steven Johnson have suggested that ideas can't possibly be generated in silos. Organizations like Scibe have been founded to break down these silos for new infrastructural development.
And yet we are surrounded by creative scarcity: Teachers, artists, art directors, creative directors, commercial directors, film directors, writers, journalists, political theorists, economists, bankers and philanthropists all suffer from the same fate, which hinges on making progress in acutely measured steps, and in which the rewards are insular.
With old, outdated models for critical analysis, teachers are acknowledged and rewarded by the number of students that they graduate, not the level of their creative outputs — outputs being anything from term papers to works of art. Once students do graduate (if they graduate), there is no real basis for the quality of a teacher's work — they are confined by a system that simply can't replicate itself or the "good" work it might produce. To boot, the teacher-student relationship degrades as creativity becomes an elusive end-goal relegated to those "special few".
In the ad agency world, creative outputs might be judged by their "quality", but the quantity of those outputs – either in sheer distribution and/or their value in media dollars – determines their efficacy. To boot, you'll also see this narrative play out in spades inside of agencies: Strategy and creative camps often go head-to-head in a battle over who gets what, who produces what, and who gets rewarded for what (an ugly by-product of "utilization", or in cruder terms, billable hours).
In the entertainment world – particularly in the film and television spaces – talent agencies thrive completely on scarcity: It's not about how "good" you are, but how much you can deliver and for what price. This might have something to do with the fact that most movies and television shows are derivative of past successes, and the fact that they cycle through writers, producers and directors like commodities… Because that's precisely what they've become: commodities.
Sound familiar? Notice the direct parallels to, say, the Occupy Movement? Why not: This is all about the 1%.
This guy doesn't seem too keen on the idea that creativity is "owned" by the 1%...
Also consider the fact that the advertising, entertainment and literary worlds all have their own mutual admiration societies; not only is there no crossover, but there is no cross-acknowledgment for reward and recognition. The result is an overarching desire to win awards at any and all costs, and often at the behest of governing bodies (AAAA, MPAA, AMACAD, etc.). Now, I'm not suggesting that these entities mix-and-match how "good creative" is rewarded, nor am I advocating a system that bundles good filmmakers with good advertising creatives, but what I am saying is that, systemically, we do very little if anything to empower changes in the approach to creative innovation.
This unionized approach is breaking at the seams, and not necessarily for the better. And underneath all of it - however obvious it might be - is a fight for control.
A direct conflict to unionization (just one, more popular example) is crowd- or peoplesourcing, and the operator for this shift is the relinquishment of control. Naturally, many ad agency creatives and film purists go bananas when talk about open-sourced ideation or storytelling surges, and rightfully so: With no standards in place, and no suitable use cases to lean on, all this translates to on the surface is the pending termination of their positions. Conversely, what may be overlooked is an opportunity to understand a market dynamic that can be cultivated so that these positions are redefined and their value is reinforced — the openIDEO or Quirky model for managing creative scarcity.
So what can be done, or what is being done about it?
The good news is there are a number of entities within each industry that are fighting the good fight, and their efforts are becoming less anomalous over time. At the risk of marginalizing their bigger intentions, their approaches might be summed up as follows:
- Making ideation a collective or a cooperative practice (these being distinctly different approaches), and creative direction the work of "conductors" -- those shaping the ideas into more constructive outputs
- Vetting market need or market opportunity first, as opposed to making assumptions or forcing a creative hand; this implies that good ideas are only those that have already been partially adopted in the marketplace
- Recruiting not only the best but the most relevant creative resources at formative points in a project, a campaign or a platform to ensure that quality adapts to shifts in the marketplace
- Allowing the creative effort to tie itself to the bottom line; making incentives real, measurable and scalable, and not necessarily just through monetary means
What are your thoughts on managing creative scarcity? What's missing from this perspective?