Part two

Working together pays off:
on our way to an inspiration economy

In the year 2015, we are evolving towards an inspiration economy. This is an economy in which the sharing of knowledge and ideas is the main raw material. Cross-pollination is naturally a term that crops up often because collaboration among companies, sectors and locations is the fuel of this new economy.

In September 2014, the study “The inspiration economy, a vision towards the future for the regional development of Flanders”, carried out by Flanders DC Knowledge Centre at the Vlerick Business School came out. It has become an interesting work that not only describes fundamental changes in our economy, but also exposes the Flemish obstacles and comes up with several proposals to overcome them.

“We have been collaborating with Vlerick Business School for ten years now”, says Pascal Cools, Managing Director of Flanders DC. “Over this time we have witnessed some fundamental shifts. We have seen creative ideas becoming more and more important for companies, and that traditional R&D is only one part of the puzzle. Above all, we have noticed different sectors learning from each other and also inspiring each other."

Spill-over or in other words: cross-pollination

In the new economy based on knowledge and ideas, inspiration is central. This kind of inspiration is about making ideas (knowledge and insights) that you get from a different context or sector than your own, and translating them into your situation. Using this kind of inspiration leads to spill-over, in other words, cross-pollination, between different domains. This kind of inspiration and cross-pollination is a vital link in the chain of the economy. This study clearly demonstrates that stimulating cross-pollination needs to be part of the core competences of a region, of a company and even of an individual.

Inspiration is important in all sectors. In the video below you can see agricultural and horticultural farmers going on an inspirational tour abroad. Some months later, AgroCreate was organized. The conference created a frame for innovation in the agricultural and horticultural sector via cross-pollination with five other sectors (fashion, design, gaming, health and architecture).

The strength of a network

During the Creativity World Forum in Kortrijk, Marion Debruyne, Professor at the Vlerick Business School and one of the authors of “De inspiratie-economie” [the inspiration economy], was on the main stage. Her research shows that in the past ten years, 52 percent of productivity increases in Belgian companies came from inspiration, from the cross-pollination you get from being ‘connected’ with your supplier, customer and what is happening elsewhere. She is convinced that today the winning companies are not those with the most resources, but those that are best ‘connected’ or, in other words, have a better network.

Customers do know what they want

Marion Debruyne also spoke about her ground-breaking innovation model, based on years of research in the Flanders DC Centre of Knowledge. In May 2014, her book on the subject "Customer Innovation. Customer-centric strategy for enduring growth" came out.’

“Businesses and organisations that are successful today, no longer see innovation and customer focus as two different sides of the coin. They determine their strategy based on the market and not based on what they’re good at.”
Marion Debruyne, Professor at Vlerick Business School

The importance of customers can be demonstrated with this figure: six percent of customers change something in a product they have purchased. This represents a huge innovation budget. “The biggest innovation budget in the world is you and me, so all of us”, concludes Marion Debruyne.

Debruyne doesn’t agree with the oft-bandied (in business circles) quote by Henry Ford to show that you can’t ask customers what they want because then we wouldn’t have seen the invention of the car: “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

Inspiration economy: and now to work

It should be clear that we are facing major economic changes. The research on the inspirational economy concludes some recommendations for preparing our economy for the new economy. Jan Bormans, Valorisation Manager at Flanders DC, highlights a few of them.

“Why are economical clusters such as Silicon Valley and Baden-Württemberg so successful?” is his opening gambit. “Because they have both top doers and top thinkers. Think and do. This applies as much to research institutions as start-ups, creatives, business angels, SMEs and multinationals. They work together, inspire each other and challenge one another. For that, you don’t only need technology but you also need a creative mind”.
Other recommendations sound logical but are not easy to put into practice: open innovation and co-creation have become the norm. That requires a different attitude coming from the entrepreneurs and the employees. An attitude of openness towards collaboration with external partners, customers and suppliers.

What also comes to the fore is the argument for simplification. Excess harms. “Products or services with more and more options give the consumer the option to stress. Call it the Swiss army knives syndrome”, says Jan Bormans “But such complexity has seen its day. Besides, even management has turned into a struggle against increasingly complicated structures, processes and systems.

It is also important to properly prepare ourselves for the sharing economy based on sharing, exchanging and swapping products rather than amassing ownership.

An exceptional role for the creative industry

In the inspiration economy, the creative industries play a huge and important role. There are always strong links between a region’s creativity and its economic output. “If we want to keep making a difference in Flanders, we need to seek out products and services that increase well-being, and that people want,” says Pascal Cools. “For this, we need entrepreneurship and creativity to be able to set ourselves apart. The creative industries can play a role in this with their concepts, expertise, and a new way of working and thinking. I am thinking about things such as telling stories, creating experiences, using social media, user-centred design. All of these can contain valuable lessons for other sectors. We have to work on this cross-pollination."

Study after study confirms that the creative industries can stimulate innovation. Already in 2010, the role of the creative industries in future European competitiveness in the world markets was recognised in the European Competitiveness Report.

The artist and the concrete farmer

An interesting and promising example of cross-pollination between the creative industries and the more traditional industries is the collaboration of the Dutch artist-designer Daan Roosegaarde and the road builder Heijmans. In 2012, they worked out the Smart Highway-concept. Recently, a part of it was built on the N329 in the Dutch Oss. Part of the motorway got Glowing Lines, or in other words very special road signs: the motorway was delineated with paint that absorbs energy thanks to the sunlight and then emits light at night. It is a safe and durable solution because you no longer need electric lighting. Useful and aesthetically pleasing at the same time. If the pilot project gets a good evaluation, these Glowing Lines will be rolled out internationally.

Daan Roosegaarde spoke at the Creativity World Forum 2014. In these dark economic times, Roosegaarde sent people home with a positive and unexpected story about innovation that makes us believe that a brighter future is possible.

A nudge in the right direction

If we look at Flanders, we can already find a few examples of cross-pollination. Scent artist Peter De Cupere, for example, worked together with playing cards manufacturer Cartamundi on a set of scent cards combined with an app. High-tech centre imec worked with new media artists to turn the data from a mobile brain scanner into something that users could see and comprehend.

To boost more of these types of cooperation, the Flemish Government launched CICI last year, which stands for Call for Innovation with the Creative Industries. As part of this program, which Flanders DC runs along with the innovation agency IWT, efforts are made to form innovative collaborations between creatives/artists and scientists or entrepreneurs through subsidies. It turned out that this was something the market was waiting for: co-financing by businesses in these projects reached the mighty sum of 1 million euros.

After the first successful call in 2013, 18 new innovative collaborative projects started in October as part of this program.

A project that wants to position Flanders as an innovative development centre for youth cycling. A game developer who wants to double the learning effects of company safety training by transforming it into an exciting game. The artistic research of an artist that may enhance the virus resistance of breeding hens. Or theatre techniques that can strengthen the position of leading woman. These are only a few of the 18 projects that are being worked on now.

Projects like these can also lead to innovation in the creative sector itself: cross-pollination by definition works both ways. In this way, an improvisation company that wants to collaborate with a business school gets access to the most advanced business know-how to refine their business model and all that thanks to the CICI-program. A fashion designer who collaborates with a university research group learns about the technology required to be able to design an intelligent piece of clothing that can show moving images.

Sleeping at festivals

There are a lot of imaginative collaborations. A good example that has already come into fruition is one from the first CICI-call, B-and-Bee, or the honeycomb hotel. This is a collaboration between two social-ecological organisations Compaan and Labeur, the design office Achilles Design and business consultant One Small Step. The honeycomb hotel is a collection of transportable, easy-to-fit and modular stacked sleeping spots shaped like a honeycomb. It has a very large sleeping capacity per square metre of floor area, perfect to set up at events or during festivals.

These are sleeping cells that don’t take up a lot of space, plus they have a locker, light and electricity. It’s a well-thought-out product that takes into account transport, use and maintenance. The sleeping modules are being made in the social economy, the materials are durable and the concept reduces the ecological footprint during festivals. The premiere in Ghent drew a lot of attention to B-and-Bee not only from newspapers and TV-channels but also from specialist designer magazines. B-and-Bee is on the cusp of an international breakthrough over the coming festival season.

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