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How Creative is Your Country?

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

The other day, I was daydreaming about living in another country other than my home in the U.S., and I began to wonder about other countries' creativity indices, and if that was a thing. Sure enough, lots of people or groups of people have attempted to measure this seemingly elusive quality, and the results are pretty darn interesting.

There needs to be a concrete way of measuring creativity to be able to say for sure if you have it or not, and to what degree. So, the way it’s currently measured for a whole country is by economic health and movement. If a country is being innovative in the way they’re approaching business growth, and in a way that’s moving them forward economically, chances are their populations will be considered more creative than countries that are standing still or going downhill in that area.

Fair enough.

In one study, these countries were called “Innovation Achievers”. Things like online creativity, trademarks, and mobile app creation are examples of things taken into consideration when looking at a country’s overall movement in creativity. (China has been number one in mobile app creation, with India - which has a much lower income economy - quickly moving to catch up.)

Some of the countries ranking highest in innovation are the usual Western suspects: Sweden, Finland, Britain, the U.S., Switzerland, Germany, etc. But there were also Asian counterparts, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and China being on top of the list. And countries like China, Turkey, and India are all making marked recent improvements in their rankings.

The Global Innovation Tracker had some hopeful news to report, even with the slowdown caused by a global pandemic: “...despite the economic downturn, investments in science and innovation have been remarkably resilient and technology adoption recorded positive growth rates across technologies. However, the socioeconomic impact of innovation is at a historic low, showing the detrimental effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

What is “socioeconomic impact”? It actually describes a person’s position in the human hierarchy, as measured by material goods, money, power, friendship networks, healthcare, leisure time, or educational opportunities. These things were all thrown out of whack during the pandemic, creating confusion and uncertainty in the human hierarchy, and these things affect, in a big way, how creative we are.

There is one indicator that is absolutely reliable in predicting innovation: social tolerance. (Remember Sweden’s high rank? They actually have a Tolerance Act!) In fact, the studies I found measure what they call the “Social Tolerance Index”, (meaning the extent of recognition and acceptance of differences, willingness to grant equal rights, and refraining from openly intolerant attitudes), and the correlation between it and a country’s creativity is startling.

At first, this surprised me, as I hadn’t linked those two concepts as being mutually inclusive. But when I did some more reading and research, it started to make perfect sense: if you can’t tolerate someone who is different from you, how would you be able to accept any new ideas? If your brain is negatively preoccupied with which person your friend is dating, or who is moving into your neighborhood, you have already dismissed out of hand a new way of thinking about relationships.

In other words, you have begun to program your brain to stop thinking creatively. It is now more interested in survival on its terms, which are rooted in the past.

When I was an arts administrator many years ago, I used to attend meetings with other arts organizations where we would discuss how to raise the requisite money to continue our mission. In those meetings, we would try to come up with all kinds of arguments to justify our very existence: the arts are fun, the arts stimulate children’s brains, the arts are a place to gather as a community, etc.

Nobody ever said, to my recollection, that the arts are a way to ensure building tolerance, and therefore, guaranteed economic success. But that is exactly what these studies are saying: tolerance is in undeniable correlation to creativity, and the more tolerant a country is, the more open it is to new ideas, and therefore new ways to do stuff, and therefore…better economic standing.

I sometimes despair that the arts are disappearing out of early childhood education in many countries, certainly in the U.S. Music, art, creative writing, theater - these are the things that teach our children tolerance and show them that, just because a person doesn’t think like you or look like you, doesn’t necessarily make them a threat.

In California last year, the LA Unified School District actually had Proposition 28: The Arts and Music in Schools Funding Guarantee and Accountability Act added to the ballot, and it passed with overwhelming support and no pushback from any sector. The funds are available for three years.

But nowhere in the reasons given for the creation of Proposition 28 did anyone use the argument for tolerance. Instead, reasons like “Arts and music instruction could help address the mental health crisis facing California’s youth as they recover from the pandemic” or “Research shows children who participate in the arts have better attendance in school and higher achievement in academic subjects.”

Granted, these are great reasons to include the arts in public education. But no one seems to understand the deeper meaning behind human creativity, that of living together in a spirit of trust and tolerance, inspired by innovation, which has been shown to be a very reliable way to ensure humanity’s cooperative movement forward.

The bottom line to me is, creativity has been a misunderstood part of the human experience, one that has been traditionally thought of as “extra”, or “if we have time”. It has not been regarded as an essential piece of our survival in modern times. Yet the link between creativity and tolerance seems to point to a hopeful future, one that could close the door forever on “us vs. them” thinking, and lead us to creating new ways to function together in the modern world.

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