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Founder of a top global advertising agency and former chairman of the Swedish Council for Cultural and Creative Industries, Sven-Olof Bodenfors champions the non-tech innovators who invest their lives in creativity

4 min read

Cultural and creative industries (CCI) add big value to society. By themselves they have huge potential to develop economic growth, but also bring considerable leverage to the development of other industries, catering to society in general, providing social and sustainable innovation in a broader perspective.

1 in 5 teenagers say they want a creative job

However, this near-political consensus and insight has little impact when planning the future. In search of innovation, Sweden mostly turns its eyes and resources towards technological and scientific research, areas where the researchers normally get paid for their work.

While in the cultural and creative sector, many people invest a huge amount of unpaid time, taking on big personal and financial risks.

A lot of people simply invest themselves and their lives in non-paid-for, time-consuming development. They invest limited earnings from part-time jobs like driving a taxi, to finance work in new non-technological, innovative projects, such as literature, film-making, composing music, designing fashion – a relentless pursuit of ideas that other businesses and all citizens in society may benefit from.

Equalising conditions for these CCI workers will take a major change in attitude throughout society, not least in other industries.

To create meaning for others is quite often a much stronger driver among the non-tech innovators than yearning for personal wealth.

Some 140,000 people are currently occupied within Sweden’s CCI, more than the entire Swedish automotive industry. But CCI are not like other industries. Mining, making trucks or retail can all be held together within firm structures, with employers and employees acting as parties in the labour market. CCI cannot be captured in the same structures; they need to grow and develop on their own terms.

The fact that 90 per cent (or more) of CCI companies are single entrepreneurs, with no other employees, makes it important to reconsider the meaning of the word “job” in political rhetoric. It must now include the many CCI self-employed workers and appraise the contribution of all these entrepreneurial researchers.

There is a need for better incentives and new ways of financing and funding research and development (R&D) in the creative and cultural sector.

To facilitate growth in CCI, the Swedish government launched a national plan of action for 2009 to 2012. This was a step in right direction. The venture involved numerous authorities and pilot projects. As a result, regional plans were outlined for the coming years.

The 11 members of an expert panel for CCI, appointed to advise the government, came to the conclusion that investing further national resources would have little effect. Instead CCI trade organisations were urged to join forces and play a leading role in the national strategy for innovation.

Bringing the interests of many different lines of business together in a new network would give CCI a strong, united voice for all the talented makers of non-tech innovation and help produce better value for the Swedish economy.

Sweden’s creative sector has been called “The new Swedish steel”. But there is no need for polarisation. It is when new steel meets old that a strong alloy is born. We must secure a favourable climate for CCI in Sweden to maintain the position of leading creative companies in international markets and enable the evolution of creative businesses. Few anticipated the birth of Spotify ten years ago.

Sweden’s creative sector has been called “the new Swedish steel”

One in five teenagers say they want a creative job. If we enable them to follow their wish, the number of people in the sector could double in five to ten years. If we want this to happen, we must adjust Sweden’s image as a nation.

This is not least about changing dismissive attitudes and halting the marginalisation of international success in music, computer games, fashion, advertising, film, literature and so on. These are not incidental “miracles” – they are a strong part of the future competitiveness of Sweden’s economy.

Did you ever hear anyone call innovative and important industries, such as Volvo and Scania, truck-making miracles or refer to SKF as the ball-bearing wonder?

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