Monday, December 05, 2005

Brown gets all Arty

At 3.30 today, Gordon Brown gives his pre-Budget report. Growth and GDP come up, but for now let's take a quick look at what's in store for the idea of an "innovative nation"...

"Making Britain 'world leaders in science based and creative industries' will also be a key theme. There could be new incentives for investment, possibly including enhanced and reformed tax breaks.

"The chancellor is also set to use the statement to detail a range of new measures designed to boost Britain's enterprise culture. This will include details of new 'enterprise scholarships' which will allow British students to 'learn from the best of enterprise in the US'."

It's obvious that the government want us all to be lovely, lively, creative types so that we can beat the idea-filled pants off other countries. "Economy-Driven Knowledge" is the light at the end of the tunnel, because we've got bugger all else to compete with now. So the big, sky-blue question at the end of the day is "How?"

At least there's some realisation that you can't just force people to be innovative. Which is a pity, as that approach seems to be what the present government loves to do best. A quick clip round the ear if you haven't had a good idea today would fit in well with other equally "strong" tactics. So perhaps this is actually a blessing in disguise - but not necessarily for the government.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that most innovation comes from an individual, independent desire to create - not from financial incentives or threat of punishment. The government realises this, hence incentives for investment rather than motivation - from a top-down perspective, the best thing you can do is to establish an environment in which people can develop their ideas without having to worry so much about the bottom line.

But this is why the "range of new measures" will be crucial to the success of such a scheme. People don't just have ideas because there's money to develop them. And here the idea of "enterprise scholarships" (taking after Police initiatives, no doubt) is intriguing - would these students be going over to pick up lessons on how to get ideas? How to turn ideas into GDP? How to run a "creative" business? All of the above, no doubt. It sounds flashy - "learning" and all that, but will it work? Probably not.

Many people (see, for instance, MacKinnon, Cumbers and Chapman) note that to have an innovative nation (as opposed to simply an innovative individual), you need much more than simply financing and personal ability - you need networking and communication. A large amount of ideas come out of pub discussions more than company meetings, and to make it big, they need webs of support to help others get into the idea, and to foster progress of the concept.

I'm not sure of the level of networking that Britain really has, compared to, say, the US or Europe. We're certainly organised in a very London-centric pattern, with a few "outbreaks" of clustered creativity in a few University towns and cities, and the effect of this distribution should certainly be taken into account when trying to induce a sense of innovation on any level.

I believe we can be creative, but the roots for it are deeper than Gordon Brown and Tony Blair would like - cultural roots, rather than financial ones. We need people doing things out of curiosity and passion, but these days, with purse-strings being tightened all over the shop, there's not a huge deal to maneuvre along these axes.

There might well be some decent ideas coming out in a few hours. We shall have to see.

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