Reported by Erik Jellyman, EPSRC-funded policy intern (September 2017 – December 2017)
On 20 October, Judge Business School hosted a discussion panel on the future of the UK’s digital economy and creative industries. The panel was chaired by an MBA student, Stuart Barr and hosted Matt Hancock MP, Minister of State for Digital; Jeremy Newton, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts; Jaideep Prabhu, Professor of Marketing, Indian Business and Enterprise at the University of Cambridge (JBS) and Mark Thompson, Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at the University of Cambridge.
Based on a new major study of 60 countries, “the UK has one of the best digital economies of any country in the world, ahead of the US and the rest of Western Europe, and is considered part of a small number of ‘digital elite’ that are ‘both highly digitally evolved and advancing quickly’.”
The UK’s digital economy is the most advanced and has the biggest GDP of any G20 country. Its creative industries are now bigger than the automotive, aerospace and life sciences combined and are one of the government’s top five focuses for post-Brexit growth.
The discussion focussed on the nexus of creative and digital industries for future prosperity and how organisations like the Judge Business School can facilitate the kind of learning that fosters creative thinking and entrepreneurship in the digital industries. Matt Hancock was present to share the UK’s vision of where digital technology is heading and the opportunities in this fast growing sector of the economy.
The discussion began by acknowledging that the UK has the largest digital economy of the G20 nations, and as such we must recognise the amount of talent present in the UK that supplies this industry. This also means that the future prosperity of the UK relies very heavily on the successful intersection of digital and creative industry: this lead to the question of how can institutions like JBS facilitate this.
The panel agreed that creativity could be brought together with expertise in order to teach enterprise. It was suggested that at JBS this has been facilitated by working closely with DCMS and creating a 2-year master’s degree course in enterprise.
Professor Prabhu suggested that lessons in creativity and enterprise could be learned by western companies by looking at industries based in developing countries. In this context the large number of constraints in resources as well as the need to deliver a product to a large number of people based on unmet need breeds creative solutions and imaginative thinking. This was described as “Frugal innovation”. This has been seen to some extent in the west with innovations in small companies such as the Raspberry Pi, but it has yet to be taken up by larger technology companies. In order to foster this kind of approach to enterprise, it would be necessary to teach students the importance of constant learning post-degree and how to “self-start”.
The discussion then moved to the current problems with the digital industries and our relationship with technology. As technology advances, more automation is brought into places that we hadn’t predicted. This will inevitably risk higher unemployment unless the workforce is successfully redeployed. This does, however, require re-education. Mark Thompson clarified the need to promote more technology skills as well as promoting better senior leadership and maturity regarding the use of data, given that this is currently considered by the panel to be quite diffuse. This, it was suggested, creates a culture of being seen to be “doing tech.” without actually considering what new technology can achieve and what its consequences might be.
Matt Hancock discussed the need for creative industries to move away from grant based support to a stable market. Additionally the music industry is highlighted as a perfect case study of technological advances can transform and harm and industry. Specifically it was discussed how the music industry struggled to protect its IP and maintain the relationships of artists with publishers due to file sharing and the prevalence of the internet.
A problem with moving forward was discussed, this being the idea that creativity is somehow not rigorous in the context of education. The panel agreed that this attitude needs to change and education needs to demonstrate a rigorous pursuit of creative ideas. This was acknowledged as an interesting challenge due to the need for students in general to be able to tick many boxes, including creativity. To aid this, diversity among students was put forward as a means of promoting diversity of thinking; this is why at JBS students are kept in small diverse teams. Despite this, Mark Thompson pointed out that even in the field of technological skills and the digital industry, any task that could be performed using an algorithm will be and so will become another job performed by a machine. This means that in education we will need to prepare people for jobs that do not yet exist. This is a unique challenge.
The panel also briefly discussed the need to bring social sciences into the workplace in order to solve workplace problems, highlighting research and innovation opportunities created by the disruption of new technology. This was part of a broader point to bring the arts and creative thinking into technical areas i.e. adding Art to STEM areas (STEAM).
Finally the panel discussed creativity, emphasising that creativity on its own cannot be taught but it can be fostered and encouraged, with methods that promote creative thinking. Part of this is to move away from specialisation, which academia is rife with, and use resources like the internet to broaden people’s skill base and interests as this can help with creative thinking. This was then brought back to the earlier point about developing countries where necessity breeds innovation, with an acknowledgement that in developing nations also there is no tradition of approach in these large technology industries and so original thinking is encouraged, whereas in the west companies are having to relearn how to be creative and move away from institutionalised and traditional ways of thinking and operating.