Is Creativity a globally homogenous concept?

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What does creativity look like in different cultures?

Creativity is the Cure

Investigating Creativity

It always strikes me as bizarre that there is a global festival of creativity but there is no global acceptance on the meaning of creativity. In the UK, the phrase ‘creative types’ can often be used dismissively. Successful creative people are flamboyant refuseniks with fiery artistic temperaments, around which the rest of us mere mortals have to tread carefully. Across the Atlantic, there is more of a long-held connection between creativity and commercial success. The legacy of Bill Bernbach’s maxim - that creativity is the last legal fair advantage to be taken over business rivals - endures. Meanwhile, in other markets dotted around the globe, from Asia to Scandinavia, creativity isn’t so much of a standalone concept; it’s just ingrained into daily life.

Just over a year ago, I persuaded Karmarama and St Luke’s founder Dave Buonaguidi to become CP+B London’s chief creative officer, one of my proudest achievements of 2015. When Dave joined us, he wrote the line “creativity is the cure” and we love it. It’s original thinking in the broadest sense: breaking through to solve business problems.

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This report identifies three facets of the meaning of creativity which vary around the world: creativity is about the new; creativity yields value; and creativity adds meaning to life. Interestingly when combined this gets pretty close to the definition I’ve always used: I think it is simply about making lives better.

As Dave and I share an obsession with creativity, both as a business notion and as an education platform, we were eager to find out to what extent people in other markets shared our view. We went in search of evidence and engaged Vlad Glaveanu, Associate Professor at Aalborg University’s International Centre for the Cultural Psychology of Creativity to work with us. The result is this report. Together we interviewed men and women aged between 25 and 35 from the US, UK, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, China, and India. Researchers asked them how they saw their own creativity and that of others. Do they see creativity as a hereditary gift that only the chosen few possess? Or do they see creativity more as a potential that we all have and should lovingly nurture within ourselves? Alternatively, is creativity regarded in more social terms, as a collaborative team effort?

While the report focused on eight territories with cultures perceived to be radically different, the results highlighted some intriguing similarities, generating a huge amount of lively discussion within our agency. We have offered our own interpretations and theories on the data which follows and see this report as the start of an ongoing conversation about the state of global creativity. I hope you find the read interesting.

Richard Pinder CEO UK & International Crispin Porter and Bogusky June 2016

“Creativity is the cure: breaking through to solve business problems.”

Creativity Matters

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‘Creativity is the engine of progress,’ said one Russian respondent, while in India, creativity was described as ‘the ultimate thing to survive in any field of service.’ One respondent in China said: ‘Any profession needs to have creativity to continue to progress,’ adding, ‘innovation is the soul of a nation.’ Participants from Russia (59.8%), Germany (58%) and the UK (57.8%), however, are more reserved about the role of creativity in the workplace. Professor Glaveanu says: ‘Respondents from Europe, while still largely supportive of creativity, might see risks involved in trying to always be creative. In Europe the term creativity

is often associated with an element of standing out, being different, and this contrasts with a long tradition, at least in some parts of the continent, towards social welfare and egalitarianism. This might also explain why US respondents, for instance, are more ready to see themselves and their colleagues as creative compared to the Europeans.’

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The eight countries featured in this report span four continents and have radically different cultural profiles. In all territories, there was a clear view of creativity as a major contributing factor to growth and progress both for individuals and society. This was shown by the considerable support for the statement ‘creativity matters for professional life’. Agreement peaked in Turkey (88%) followed by China (80%), India (79%), Brazil (78.3%), and the US (76.2%).

Most respondents were quick to associate creativity with something new and original, rather than regarding it in terms of value, with the strongest support coming from Russia (90.2%). Dave Buonaguidi, CP+B London’s chief creative officer, agrees: ‘Creativity should give birth to something new. It should move forward and be on the edge of things that are happening now.’ One starkly different country in the report is China, where 70% of respondents consider creativity in terms of value. Glaveanu says: ‘What we know from cross-cultural studies is that things might be different in East and South-East Asia where creativity is understood not as a revolutionary but as an adaptive process, gradually transforming culture. So the value aspect can be expected to be dominant. And this is exactly what we found in China: a strikingly high support for value over originality.’ In China, creativity is tightly associated with adding economic value. This is changing fast. The old ‘made in China’ badge used to symbolise cheap, poorly made products. Today, however, ‘made in China’ is increasingly regarded as a hallmark for quality as companies such as telcos Xaiomi and Huawei and tech giant Lenovo have gained international recognition. These companies are fusing the addition of economic value with an increasing focus on a more Western facet of originality. What’s more, key to the success of Chinese brands are the preferences of China’s increasingly affluent middle class and these currently favour indigenous brands. A recent McKinsey report reveals that 62% of

Chinese consumers now prefer domestic brands over foreign ones, as long as there is parity between quality and price. As China’s middle class continues to grow, the country’s culture will shift from being value-based to becoming more values-based. Certainly, with Boston Consulting Group predicting that the number of upper middle-class and affluent households in China will double to 100 million by 2020, accounting for 30% of all urban households compared with 17% today, the impact that this rapidly expanding socio-economic group will have on China’s broader culture will be significant. As Professor Glaveanu puts it: ‘Creativity matters in China because the entire society is pushed, from top down, to reformulate the old “made in China” into “created in China”.’

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But to date there has been comparatively little emphasis on how less explored but increasingly significant territories such as Brazil and Turkey, regard creativity.

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Cross-cultural studies of creativity consistently show up differences between Western and Eastern countries, with the West (mainly Western Europe and the US) tending to frame it in terms of celebrated creators, emphasising novelty and originality. However, in the East (mainly South and East Asia), creativity is often seen as a collective, evolutionary process.

Originality vs Value

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Creativity in Europe

Positions on Creativity

How people from different cultures evaluate their own creativity and that of their peers reveals interesting patterns among the eight surveyed countries. Compared with other, more buoyant markets - mainly in Asia, but also the US - the report paints a picture of Europe as losing creative confidence with the statement ‘In my work I am creative person’ attracting the least amount of support from European markets. In Germany, just 56% agreed with the statement, 54.9% in the UK and 48% in Russia. Compare this to India (75%), Brazil (72.3%), and Turkey (71%), the US (68.3%) and China (66%). Europeans are even less impressed by their colleagues’ sense of creativity. When asked the questions ‘Most people I work with are creative’, just over half - 51% - of UK respondents agreed, dwindling to 40% in Germany and just 27.5% in Russia.

The responses from the report indicate five clear positions on creativity:

The report paints a picture of Europe as losing creative confidence… What are the implications of this for the future of Europe’s creative industries?

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Fatalistic (no one is creative) Self-serving (self is more creative) Equalitarian (everyone is average) Deferring (others are more creative) Empowering (everyone is creative)

The eight countries show a mix of empowering and self-serving views. The empowering position is most dominant in India (58%) and the US (52.5%), followed by the UK (42.2%), while the self-serving view is more prevalent in Turkey (51%), Brazil (44.6%) and Russia (35.3%). China and Germany suggest a more moderate mix of empowering and self-serving creativity positions.

Is Creativity Rare, Innate? Historically, creativity has been regarded as akin to a special gift, bestowed only on a few lucky souls, or passed down through the generations, an image that continues to pervade popular culture. Yet in reality there is only moderate support for this view. When it came to agreeing with the question: ‘is creativity innate?’ only around half of respondents - India (59%), the US (51.5%), and Turkey (50%) – did so. These numbers dwindled in China (38%), Russia (35.3%) and Brazil (24.7%).

Are only a few people truly creative? Respondents from India think so (70%), followed by China (56%), the US (49.5%), Turkey (47%), Russia (45.1%) and the UK (41.2%). Less support for this idea is found in Brazil (36.7%) and Germany (32%). Buonaguidi thinks strongly that creativity shouldn’t be reified to the degree it has been in the past: ‘For some reason creativity has become commoditised. It’s become a noun; a thing. Whereas, to be creative is a process, which works best when you engage in the creative process with others. Creativity isn’t a department where art directors, copywriters and designers sit around eating sushi all day. We’re not making Fabergé eggs anymore. Instead, we are constantly creating a river of ideas that are quick and disposable. If it flashes, great, enjoy it while it lasts. If it fails, move on. That constant state of flux is exciting.’

Creativity is a potential we all have

Is creativity innate? Are only a few people truly creative?

Psychological research into creativity often espouses a typically ‘Western’ approach to creative potential, framing it as a personal quality for which individuals are responsible. Yet significantly, in addition to the US, there was strong support for the statement ‘we are all creative one way or another’ and ‘everyone should cultivate his/her own creativity’ in many Asian countries. 59% India

38% China 35.3% Russia

50% Turkey

51.5% US

47% Turkey

32% Germany

This ‘democratic’ view of creativity is most prevalent in India (84%), the US (81.2%) and China (81%), followed by Turkey (72%). European countries such as the UK (68.6%), Russia (64.7%) and Germany (60%) show more moderate support for the view that ‘everyone should cultivate his/her own creativity’ while fewer than half of the Brazilian respondents take this view (45.5%).

56% China

36.7% Brasil

Democratic View of Creativity

41.2% UK

India 84%

45.5% Russia 49% US

70% India

US 81.2% China 81% Turkey 72% UK 68.6% Russia 64.7% Germany 60% Brazilian 45.5%

We have a responsibility to develop our own creativity

More Creative Alone or Together?

When it comes to taking personal responsibility to enhance one’s creativity, Brazilians agree the most readily (92.1%), followed by the US (86.1%), China (86%), India (83%), Russia (80.3%) and Turkey (79%). Strong support is also found in the UK (70.6%) and Germany (68%).

Could these less enthusiastic scores suggest a more isolationist approach in the UK and Germany that is holding them back at a time when newer competitors embrace a more collaborationist modus operandi? Certainly, on the eve of the Brexit vote in the UK - to which Pinder and Buonaguidi are ardently opposed - the country’s creative as well as its political future could be hanging in the balance.

Glaveanu says: ‘This suggests that, in Europe at least, there is less a tendency to glorify genius nowadays than there used to be.’

Personal Responsibility Brazilians 92.1% US 86.1% China 86% India 83%

The report found overall support for the idea that people are more creative when they work together. Agreement with this statement peaks in India (81%), followed by the US (75.3%), Brazil (74.3%), and Turkey (71%). Respondents from Europe are, once more, more moderate in their views with slightly lower scores in Russia (61.7%), the UK (58.8%) and Germany (57%).

If the UK votes for Brexit, Buonaguidi believes that creativity will be relegated to underground status rather than being a fundamental tenet of the progressive societies and thriving enterprises that help build economies and national confidence. Pinder says: ‘If the UK looked at history we’d understand why Brexit is a bizarre and dangerous notion. It’s not 1850 where the world will miss us. It’s 2016 and people would just say “where did that little island go?”’

Russia 80.3% Turkey 79% Uk 70.6% Germany 68%

“The Americans and the Chinese express the team game brilliantly…. That provides a sense of community and togetherness that we don’t see in European countries.”

While there may be a romantic notion around creativity - that it’s something which can only occur in isolation - in the modern business world it needs to be a team effort. Pinder says: ‘Collaboration is the only way. We bring in clients now to co-create with us and get much more interesting work because there’s not this ‘ta-da!’ moment. Buonaguidi agrees: ‘It’s about becoming genuine creative partners to our clients that employ us to improve their business.’ In China, there is stronger support 70% - for the statement ‘People are more creative when they work together, aligning it more closely with India and the US. Pinder reflects: ‘The Americans and the Chinese express the team game brilliantly. In America, virtually everyone has a story about how their forefathers had to fight against the most incredible odds. That provides a sense of community and togetherness that we don’t see in European countries.’ These territories also share optimism about the future, according to Pinder. He says: ‘Having lived in both Europe and Asia and now working for an American business, I’ve said for a long time that there are huge similarities between the US and Asia. They might be expressed in different ways but it’s the same sentiment: tomorrow will be better. In the US, it’s the celebration of work and success, the “American Dream”, while in China it’s “tomorrow will be lucky”.’

People are More Creative Together

India 81%

US 75.3%

Brazil 74.3%

A Creative Work Environment A question about whether the work environment is important for developing creativity elicited a similar pattern. Respondents who strongly agree with this claim come from India (87%), China (85%), Turkey (83%), and Brazil (80.2%), followed by Russia (75.5%) and the US (71.3%). Once more, slightly less support is found in Europe, in Germany (66%), and the UK (62.8%).

Turkey 71%

China 70%

Russia 61.7%

UK 58.8%

Germany 57%

Respondents from Europe are … more moderate in their views (that people are more creative when they collaborate)… Could these less enthusiastic scores suggest a more isolationist approach that is holding them back?

A dominant emphasis on the creative individual is found primarily in the US, closely followed by China a finding which belies China’s collectivist heritage

It is perhaps no coincidence that India, Turkey and China - the countries that have some of the most positive attitudes towards creativity, also happen to be the ones enjoying relative economic growth, 7% and 6.7% respectively. Glaveanu remarks: ‘Creativity is much more of a buzzword in Turkey, China and India. In these fast-developing countries, creativity is part of a larger discourse of competing with the West and becoming better and better at it.’ In turn, that success rate is inspiring progress. Buonaguidi says: ‘When you feel things are going well, anything is achievable. And if you feel that, your neighbour feels it. Your colleague feels it. Creativity is a mind-set, a by-product of confidence.’ Meanwhile, in Europe’s largest markets, economic growth is non-existent and Pinder and Buonaguidi agree that this is having a detrimental effect on creative output. In the first quarter of 2016, the Russian economy contracted 1.2%, Germany grew 0.7% and the UK by 0.4%. ‘Europe is much more obsessed with the status quo,’ says Pinder. ‘I come into contact with clients who say “as long as I hit last year’s numbers and get 1% on top, that’s fine”. There’s that feeling of “don’t rock the boat” rather than changing or doing something different,’ he says.

Creativity and Culture: General Trends

The workplace is important in the development of individuals’ creativity

UK 62.8%

Germany 66%

US 71.3%

Russia 75.5%

While there may be geographic and cultural discrepancies around whether respondents adopt an empowering or a self-serving view of creativity, the report indicates overwhelming support for creativity and its potential. The study surfaced three key topics which will continue to be debated for some time:

Brazil 80.2%

Turkey 83%

China 85%

India 87%

Creativity Paradigms While there may be an over-riding attitude towards creativity in a specific market, to what extent do different paradigms of creativity co-exist in the eight territories? For instance, creativity might predominantly be regarded as a rare gift but that won’t necessarily discount collaboration within that culture. The three paradigms can be described simply as the paradigm of the creative genius, of creative individuals, and creative collaboration. The research team asked respondents to agree / strongly agree with questions intended to evaluate these positions. Across all territories, support for the creative genius waned at the expense of support for the creative individual. A dominant emphasis on the creative individual rather than creative collaboration is found primarily in the US (75.2%) and China (72%),

a finding which belies China’s collectivist heritage. Glaveanu says: ‘China joins the US in sharing this more individualistic orientation. This is surprising considering how we often imagine the Chinese society as favouring teamwork and community over isolated individuals. This speaks about a more general transformation of these societies and their openness towards competition and more marketoriented economies.’ The creative individual paradigm attracted more temperate support from the UK (57%), Russia (55.9%) and Germany (50%). Conversely, a stronger emphasis on creative collaboration as opposed to individuals is specific for Brazil (65.3%) and Turkey (69%). In India, both paradigms co-exist and score very highly (73%). Interestingly, Indians also support the idea of the creative genius the most enthusiastically (47%).

A new global definition of creativity – combining originality, meaningfulness and value – and the way that this manifests itself around the world. A surprisingly lower degree of creative self-confidence in Europe and, in contrast, the creative optimism on display in markets which are currently growing economically. The increasing importance of seeing creativity as a process to engage in collaboratively, rather than rely on a lone creative genius to dream up a solution.

Methodology The findings in this study report statistically significant differences between countries that can be validated further on larger samples. 806 participants from eight countries were questioned, with roughly 100 participants per country and an even gender distribution. Participants were aged 25-35 and educated to at least high school diploma level.


If you would like to hear more about this study, and our work at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, please contact

Richard Pinder at @londoncpb

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