The funding challenges in a knowledge economy – whether that entails building a new social web platform, reinterpreting national statistics to provide useful insight or developing games and entertainment – have more in common with the traditional arts than you might think, since attitudes to employment and wages dating back to the middle ages don’t particularly suit the creative challenge ahead.
The common expectation is that the intellectual workhorses behind the knowledge economy - the software architects, engineers, games designers, copywriters, journalists and graphic artists – are employed; attend a workplace and work for a wage.
Yet wages are better suited for a different kind of industrial challenge less prevalent today. Workers were and still are needed in the factories, on the farms, to fix the roads, teach our children and tend to the sick.
But today far fewer workers are needed to sustain a functioning society.
Since the industrial revolution we’ve seen productivity rocket. Machines help us get far more out for each staff hour put in, and that can only improve further as advanced computing techniques – artificial intelligence - bring even more labour saving.
The Luddite workers smashed the mills in fear of their livelihoods as machines replaced workers. But automation is only a problem if wages are the only remuneration society has to offer.
In a wage culture, society ends up inventing jobs to give people something to do. And I mean this with only a hint of irony.
I’ve witnessed an office full of my co-workers first left to rust, then tasked with finding a new employer as a mammoth organisation ‘reorganised’ itself.
The workforce released through automation (or outsourcing) needs to be utilised in a more meaningful way than the modern equivalent of paper-shuffling or digging holes and filling them back in again.
Enter the role of venture capitalists, taking a punt on creating the next big thing. Surely they’re focussed on creativity and invention?
Yet venture capitalists are ultimately chasing not ideas and creativity but building an entity that is saleable or floatable to make a large-enough return to cover their investment in this – the one successful venture – plus all their other profitless ventures.
And in building an entity one gets back to employment and wages, bricks and mortar - despite numerous studies showing the futility (Teresa Amabile for one) of using money, deadline pressure, internal competition etc as a motivator for creativity.
Essentially nearly everything employment and the workplace has to offer bar the social interaction acts as a de-motivator for creativity.
Duncker’s candle problem allows the impact of incentives on solving a ‘creative’ challenge to be measured. Experiments consistently show financial incentives, or other motivators e.g. through competition, only hinders performance.
Stress can be explained as an inhibitor for creativity – it provokes a fight-or-flight response; diverting mental capacity away from the creative areas of the brain towards the motor functions to help our chances of survival.
Nearly everything employment and the workplace has to offer is an inhibitor to creativity, yet the knowledge economy demands masses of multidisciplinary creative skills; and yet the main funding method is employment, driven by the need to build and sell organisations.
And so onto my hobby horse of copyright. Copyright, in its purist uncorrupted form, despite its own inherent problems, provides a better model.
(Now I bet you never thought you’d hear me singing the praises of copyright! FWIW I’ve never been against the concept, just the bastardisation we see today.)
Copyright gives creators an income which is not reliant on them spending 5 days a week behind a desk. Independent funding through copyright for past works gives a freedom which helps creativity for future works.
An epoch in my many years investigating copyright and creativity came after talking to a writer, who told me the technology industry should move towards a copyright model, not drag established creators into wage slavery.
I dismissed this at first, but now it makes sense. Organisations on a whole aren’t great places for creativity. Some are, but most aren’t.
The urge to make a profit usurps all other corporate drivers, and most CEOs and directors turn to the traditional mentality of organise and control to achieve this; and methods used to organise and control staff end up inducing unnecessary stress, and stress inhibits creativity.
The stress is inherent and inseparable. An individual dependent on a corporation for their income and therefore their home and their ability to feed and clothe their family can see minor work issues become major worries.
And all this without further stress added by total corporate monitoring regimes (email/web use etc), frequent performance reviews, banning of comfort zones like social networks, etc.
Facebook buying Instagram for silly money will only fuel the drive of investors to build more entities capable of being sold for silly money.
Yet wouldn’t a different mechanism to encourage independent auteurs in digital sectors not work better for society? (As in provide a better range of innovative services faster, for less overall investment.)
I’m not for a minute suggesting copyright without massive reform would facilitate this. But the concept – of providing remuneration outside of traditional employment for digital creators – might prove a better model than the bubble-inducing scramble to build and sell the next Instagram.