Innovation Insider – Exploring Key Challenges Small Creative Businesses Face with regard to Innovation

Innovation is often defined as the ‘introduction of new productions or methods’, but it is used by the creative industries to develop novel and exciting new products and is a technique employed to improve interaction with audiences, engage new consumers, explore cross-sector opportunities and increase profitability.  My work at Create Central is all about trying to help form the ecosystem to support such innovation across the West Midlands and ensure the region becomes the location of choice for highly innovative creative entrepreneurs.

I have outlined below five regional challenges which I feel can offer small businesses significant opportunity – and once combined I feel the West Midlands could be the leading UK region to innovate and create.

1. Distributing creative power throughout the sector and region

The rise in new technologies has fundamentally changed the way we work and live (never more so than during this global pandemic). We could therefore argue that innovation (defined as a permanent process of developing and applying new knowledge to work, life, products and services), has become the driving force in our society. This is becoming a more and more open process where consumers act as both users and producers, creating their own goods, services and environments. The challenge here is to make sure this creative power is distributed throughout our sector and throughout the region (such creative capital allows creative businesses to thrive in a global marketplace).

Through our project work at Create Central and the West Midlands Innovation Programme we are seeking to encourage open innovation, a process where new combinations are constantly in development. In the West Midlands partners such as universities, festivals, small companies and creative individuals have all become involved – a great example here is our Positive Realities project which brought together a range of partners all focused on creating a new product able to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of young people in Coventry.

Of particular importance to the creative industries is innovation in the provision of experiences because their products are fundamentally intended to provoke particular responses from their users. This provides an opportunity for experiences to be co-produced – allowing consumers and users to feedback and companies to make changes to their offer as a result. This ethos of user engagement is something we are trying to install in our new Innovation Engine 3 projects which bring together small businesses able to address the challenges from larger public and private sector organisations.

2.Sharing innovation success

A key way to innovate is to learn from others and think how you could best reflect such a change in your own business – however a good deal of innovation in the creative industries turns out to be hidden, that which is not recorded using traditional innovation indicators.  And much activity in creative industries involves research and development (R&D) of new products. Such activities may not take place in conventional settings, our job is therefore to spot this innovation and through our network of events and conferences to share it with the local sector.

Cross-sector innovation provides significant opportunity for the regional economy, exploring novel combinations of existing technologies and processes. For example, the use of games engines to support virtual production for TV programmes, VR content packaged for mobile phone or online downloads and music repackaged in a new compilation or made available for multiple content platforms.

A recent research study commissioned by NESTA found that there were numerous innovations that take place on-the-job during the creation of new products and which fail to be recognised or replicated. The creative industries demand innovative problem-solving, but many of the new solutions are one-offs. Businesses don’t find it easy to reproduce such new approaches, though some technical developments (for example, useful lines of code in videogames) may be systematically archived.

The creative industries are experiencing important changes that require and create opportunities for innovation. These changes include:

New technological platforms – new information technologies, and the associated digitisation of much creative content, are changing the way products are created, delivered, and marketed. This is particularly true in videogames development but is occurring across the creative industries.

Consumers – both individuals and firms are becoming more sophisticated in their tastes and choices. Consumers are sharing their views more readily among themselves and with producers, leading to more co-production of creative products.

New products – are being generated for new markets, for example, entertainment firms moving into educational markets with new types of videogames, or manufacturing firms becoming service providers. These developments are driving innovation in the creative industries, not least because competitors use innovation to gain market share and enter new markets.

3.Capturing and using ad-hoc innovations

Many creative businesses struggle to formalise their innovation processes, these firms find it difficult to manage their innovation processes systematically. Innovation often remains spontaneous or ad hoc; creativity tends to involve the ideas of a small number of senior staff, with little formal R&D. We are encouraging closer links with Universities and graduates are able to provide vital technical skills. However, communities of best practice, associations such as Create Central and more informal groups are an extremely important source of new ideas. We hope to run more projects which will encourage ad-hoc collaborations and will help foster that ecosystem of innovation.

4.Developing skills and talent

Regional companies do need to focus on acquiring and developing the right skills and capabilities to innovate – especially with the help of their consumers. Much creative industry innovation is based on ‘co-production’ with significant input from the client. Whilst conventional project and innovation management skills remain important, innovation managers must increasingly demonstrate skills for collaboration with professionals of various types and for engagement with consumers.  Here we are looking for further links with local Universities and look forward to working more closely with the new BBC apprentice hub.

5.Networking and Partnerships

Networks, partnerships and collaborations are also important sources of innovation. We are finding that new forms of innovation are emerging rapidly, and we are doing our best to keep abreast of these changes. Ensuring that adequate intelligence gathering systems are in place, and that new approaches inform training and competence-building schemes or targeted innovation support, is going to be central to the future growth and success of the UK’s creative sector. We will continue to support and host events which will allow our sector to form new partnerships and explore new ways of working in a growth economy.

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Author, Tim Luft

Virtual Innovation Team Lead, Creative; Innovation Lead, Create Central