Fortunately, things are going well in Denmark. We have the top global rankings of happiness, hygge and security. We excel when it comes to food products and green and healthy living. We have an efficient and highly digitised public sector, unemployment numbers are low, and growth is booming. If Denmark were a company, investors would likely be lining up.
There is no better time to rethink one’s business than when things are going well. That is when we should be asking ourselves, what’s next?
But as any savvy businessperson knows, there is no better time to rethink one’s business than when things are going well. That is when we should be asking ourselves, what’s next?
The Danish government shows its awareness of this with the establishment of a growth team for the creative industries. The team consists of 13 experts, who are about to make their recommendations for further strengthening creative industries, a category ranging from film to computer games to architecture to design.
For decades, the creative industries have been carriers of what I call Denmark’s design DNA. The inherent code that we associate with simplicity, quality, high functionality, naturalness, sustainability and solutions that put human needs first. This DNA constitutes a huge potential for any company that manages to activate it in their products and services as a way to differentiate itself in the global competition.
The key is rather how the creative industries generate added value outside their own fields by contributing innovation and innovation capacity to other industries.
Thus, the key is not the level of growth we manage to generate within the industries we characterise as ‘creative’. The key is rather how the creative industries generate added value outside their own fields by contributing innovation and innovation capacity to other industries. If we combine our creative competencies with the development and innovation efforts in areas such as healthcare and life sciences, energy, climate and welfare technologies, Denmark will be second to none.
What should replace Silicon Valley?
The past decade has seen tremendous growth in digital technologies, in many cases making our everyday lives easier and smarter and boosting productivity and development in business and industry. That is great. However, the global fascination with Silicon Valley’s technology-driven growth model is fading fast. It is becoming obvious that the business models of the tech-giants are turning all of us (or, rather, our data) into a commodity they can sell at will, with little public oversight and, consequently, little security.
In the United States, the term ’techlash’, derived from ‘backlash’, is used to describe this development. Our data, our privacy and our integrity are up for grabs. Although we cannot fully comprehend the nature or consequences of the algorithms, a big slice of our digital life is in the hands of large corporations whose goals are not necessarily compatible with our own best interests.
Naturally, the future agenda remains digital, but it will be shaped in a new balance between humanity and technology, society and business. In this regard, Denmark has every opportunity to demonstrate how technology and digitisation can generate value for all of us and still be good business. Considering Danish IT success stories such as Endomondo (fitness), Momondo (travel), Libratone (audio), Vivino (wine), Pleo (payments), Too Good to Go (preventing food waste) and Be My Eyes (an app for blind users), each of these companies meets human needs in a simple, cool, intuitive and aesthetic manner, and in addition, several of them also address social or societal challenges.
Denmark has every opportunity to demonstrate how technology and digitisation can generate value for all of us and still be good business.
Overall, there is a major opening for Danish and Nordic companies to offer solutions that are just as fully digital as the others on the market, but more sustainable in social, environmental and economic terms. Values that take on renewed currency with the implementation of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be undertaken during the coming years in Danish companies and institutions of every size and in every business area.
An investment in growth
Design – which could be described as targeted creativity – may be the clearest example of the capacity of creative competences to generate value in other areas of business and industry. That is why the Danish Design Centre bring designers and companies together to develop innovative solutions – sometimes tangible products, but more often digital services and business models. Designers use their creativity to include both customers and the companies’ own staff in the development process and come up with solutions that are visual and attractive. Next, they test the most promising solutions quickly and efficiently together with the users. That is good business! Our experience shows that companies’ investments in the use of designers come back up to 20 times in the form of added growth over the following three years.
Thus, as some our most fundamental values, such as democracy and the rule of law, come under threat, there is a need for creative Danish solutions. For example, how can we develop ‘ethical tech’, ‘design for security’ or ‘innovation for privacy’? In addition to the obvious value for people and society, this represents a huge market potential. Who is going to seize that agenda, if we don’t?
Unfortunately, Denmark is not the only country which has discovered that creative competencies are a key competitive parameter. Countries we normally compare ourselves to are already developing policies and initiatives in the creative field. The British government has invested in a range of creative innovation platforms – so-called catapults – intended to accelerate development in areas such as urban development, renewable energy, digitisation, advanced production methods and so forth.
Singapore is now moving away from a tech-driven economy towards a greater focus on humanity, as exemplified in its new strategy ‘Lovable City’. Tomorrow’s Singapore is not a ‘smart city’ or a ‘liveable city’; it is a lovable city, with an emphasis on love, empathy and the good life. And recently, Berlin hosted the Creative Bureaucracy summit, which addresses the need for a creative rethinking of the public sector.
In creative circles around the world, we used to be the country with the chairs, the lamps, the tables and the loudspeakers; maybe in the future, we could be the country that excels in digital, ethical, sustainable creativity?
Our particular Danish accomplishments are not holding other countries back – that’s the thing about laurels! In creative circles around the world, we used to be the country with the chairs, the lamps, the tables and the loudspeakers; maybe in the future, we could be the country that excels in digital, ethical, sustainable creativity? Maybe we could be the ones who give technology and digitisation a human soul and outlook? Not a bad role for Denmark. We have the skills – creative superpowers – and the markets are certainly there.
Denmark as a global creative leader
I hope that the government’s growth team will make recommendations that help the creative competences cross-fertilise the other Danish positions of strength, for example by applying creativity on health care, climate and the environment, more sustainable shipping or maybe ‘digital ethics’.
However, a new growth policy for the creative industries is not enough in itself. The managers of Danish creative companies need to wake up and notice the burning platform. Specifically, they need to focus much more on talking to actors who may come from completely different areas, but who have the will and the talent to steal market shares from them. This might include platform giants such as Netflix, Spotify, Mofibo and, for that matter, the youth magazine Vice, which has taken a completely different path to wind up right behind us near the goal area.
And that brings me back to my opening point about the tools are right there in front of us and the hidden superpowers: we have a huge, untapped potential, and realising it is going to take bold and ambitious initiatives. Some of the creative talents in this country have the answers to the biggest questions raised by the technological development.
For example, as we set out to find the best way to handle personal data in the future, there are clear indications that we should not necessarily look to Silicon Valley for the answer; instead, we should, perhaps, turn to Silkeborg – if, that is, we manage to focus our strengths and activate the talent we have been blessed with.