Artistic thinking key to social, business innovation


Can Miami rise with the sea level and out the swamp of business as usual?

I was reminded by the March release of McKinsey & Company’s report, “The Real Business of Business” that corporate managers are responsible for focusing on creating wealth for shareholders, but social concerns, at times, don’t align with the corporate responsibility of maximizing wealth — especially when short-term profiting is at play. This explains the deliberate ignorance surrounding social issues, climate change, for example.

Social innovation is a 21st-century solution for creating social value, and Miami is ripe with resources for making an impact of national significance. We can think and do “innovation.”

Miami has an underutilized economic-asset base in its artists. When underutilized assets are efficiently put to use, their value increases to the point where they are optimal. This is the same fundamental goal we see in our real-estate investments.

The premise is to set the environment, invite cross-sectors to the conversation, start dialogue and collaborate on holistic investments for our future. To facilitate this, I’ve proposed an Art Think Institute.

The Hialeah Contemporary Culture Project — HICCUP — founded by Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, a cultural anthropologist, and artist Ernesto Oroza, is an example. They created an initiative called Hialeah Souvenirs. As Hernandez-Reguant says: “Initially, souvenirs were unique to a place. Now, in the last two decades, they are all made in China, and now anywhere you go in the country it’s all the same.” When you see a T-shirt or a product that says, for instance, “I (heart) 305,” in reality, consumers “heart” Chinese mass production. Hialeah Souvenirs seeks to push back by localizing production, hiring locals and producing in Hialeah. This project, funded by the Knight Foundation, was a result of Oroza and and artist Gean Moreno researching souvenirs and modes of contemporary production.

Stanford University says that social innovation directs us to ideas and solutions that create social value, focusing on the processes through which they are generated, not only the individuals and organizations. This process integrates private capital with public and philanthropic support.

Miami is emerging as an art-centric city. Contemporary this and contemporary that are artfully weaving into the 305’s vernacular with the same ubiquitousness of, let’s say, cafecito. Miami’s Knight Foundation fits the rich-uncle persona. By recently extending funding of its Knight Arts Challenge through 2018, it validated the creative trajectory and what I see as art-based innovation cultivation. Learning and measuring the impact can help better convert financial subsidies into regional growth and sustainable outcomes.

With Miami’s cultural sector well under way, there are efforts in developing a technology hub (eMerge, UM Launch Pad, Venture Hive, Lab Miami, Endeavor, MDC Idea Center, Rokk3r).

Trying to clone Silicon Valley is a stretch, especially with our relatively dismal venture-capital component. Miami was ranked 80th in 2014 by National Venture Capital Association for dollars invested in a metro area, beaten by its neighbors Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and West Palm Beach, ranked 11th, 40th and 55th respectively.

Innovation is required for our own tech-ecosystem breakthrough, namely, birthing a market-winning technology. Collateral benefits — artist-led urban turnaround — of Miami’s burgeoning, and sometimes dubious, developments in real estate add to the creative-capital mix. With less dubiousness and more benefit, by utilizing more enlightened practice, Miami is poised to respond and engage the national outcry for innovation — particularly social innovation.

In developmental economics, investing in education yields one of the highest dividends a nation can reap for its people. Education is a function of social engagement. Formal education is a business, and many institutions are subject to the constraints of big-business complexity. A culture of bureaucracy and “it’s expensive to be responsive,” means change is left to smaller, sleeker, entrepreneurial types to address the gaps until “Big” can catch-up.

Creativity, experimentation, chance, radical thought, play, failure, tinkering and social causes don’t often thrive or survive in Main Street businesses. But we find those attributes for innovation in our artist community.

An FIU paper published in 2013, Digital Literacy: A Demand for Nonlinear Thinking Styles, highlights the merits of nonlinear thinking for visual literacy and artistic intuitive practices in education and workplaces. Employing artists’ lenses to more aspects of our economy goes beyond employing their training to adorn our community’s walls and streetscape. Individual labor is moving toward a project-based, digitally networked, parceled, multi-organization approach. Artists are seasoned practitioners, by necessity, in an environment that is usually limited to the mainstream way of doing business. Their creative way of seeing and doing things has increasing value to our evolving economy.

Nonlinear — artistic — methodologies have a role at decision tables. As an experiment in the alternative, if not simply to stimulate, we ought to encourage convergence of right-brain/left-brain thinking to achieve more whole-brained thinking to address commercial and social problems.

Neil Ramsay, who has degrees in business economics and finance, develops “creative-economics” solutions to social and commercial challenges.