Creative Economy : Opportunities & Challenges for Thailand 2


A solution is not an answer to a problem!

This may sound absurd but it is very true in the case of something as different as planning for enhancing the creative ability of an entire nation.

Solution based approaches, risks applying the “magic bullet” model to solve problems. They are ‘ad hoc’ and non-strategic by nature and reach for the answers before the questions are fully answered. [12]

In typical policy making and practice, emphasis is placed on quickly arriving at a politically motivated solution to a problem rather than re-looking at the root cause of the problem itself.

Charles Landry, the urban theorist and practitioner, warns of the hazards of instrumental & scientific rationality used in policy making:

“Planners find it easier to think in terms of expenditure on highways, car parks and physical development schemes rather than on soft - infrastructure such as training initiatives for skill development, grants to local voluntary organisations to develop social networks or decentralise power to build up local capacity and encourage people to have a stake in running their neighbourhoods” [13]

Landry adds that one of the symptom of the narrowness of planners is that they find it very hard to focus on desires rather than needs.

A need is an objectifiable entity like a lamp post, frequent bus service, an art and cultural center or a physical space. A desire by contrast  involves the subconscious, dreams and feelings, and an atmosphere of a place, confidence of having the right knowledge.


This has been the case with many projects promoting the creative economy worldwide.  Governments and policy makers resorted to organising events, shows, exhibitions, funding schemes and ‘quick fix’ projects in the hope that they will inspire the people to create rather than re-look at the core problem itself; which could be lack of a business climate which supports entrepreneurship, lack of strategic thinking capabilities, lack of a culture of innovation, low entrepreneurial capabilities, an education system which does not promotes critical thinking and a myriad other issues.

Any number of events, exhibitions, festivals and such quick fix schemes will not build the capabilities of communities or nations. They are only supportive but not transformative.

They cannot by them selves transform a society, however that is not the case in Thailand; if it is visible, generates much noise & publicity and offers an opportunity to ‘get famous’ then it is the preferred route.

A transformative policy on the other hand takes a problem driven approach, and keeps in view the larger contexts of time, social & cultural issues and interaction between individual parts of a project and the whole before any project planning, visioning or conceptualising begins.

It begins by asking the right questions and is based on a thorough analysis of the problem through research followed by arriving a complete set of long term and short term measurable objectives, which in turn, helps making well informed decisions.

The disconnect between the problem and the solution become exaggerated in undefined ideas such as the creative economy where global models are not universally replicable nor is there a reliable model to copy easily. What works in UK or Australia may not work for Thailand.

There are many pre-conditions for a creative economy to flourish in a nation and they need to be understood well enough by local agencies before foreign agencies are ‘imported’ to provide credibility to projects.Such an approach will only lead to completion of a project but will eventually not be successful in addressing the problem.

In the older Industrial or Agricultural eras, such initiatives did yield results to some extent but this is not necessarily the case in the creative & knowledge eras as we are not dealing with infrastructure like roads & buildings or tangible products like cotton, oil or tractors, but we are dealing with intangibles of human capabilities to generate ideas that can be commercialised and sold in the global market place.The infrastructure for the creative economy is the skill of the workforce to think in new ways, a business climate which supports risk taking & failure, an entrepreneurial environment of trust and sharing and a society which is buzzing with ideas.Current ways of working, competing, measuring success or failure, existing skills and competencies will be greatly challenged in the new economic paradigm which is essentially what experts call ‘a shift from left brain thinking to a whole brain thinking.’

Many hundreds of years of conditioning cannot be completely reversed in a few years. What can definitely be achieved is a relatively short span is build confidence and provide inspiration through right policies that are well informed through research.

When critical thinking, innovation & creativity was not the strength of a particular community, no amount of funding or inspiration can help them.

The only way is to re-skill them. But again the question is to re-skill them in what and how?

Answers to such fundamental questions can only arrive out of a thorough research into the needs, desires and existing capabilities of the people and build on their capabilities to enhance their skills which can be visual, linguistic, analytical, cognitive (i.e. ability to understand the decipher complex visual language & meaning).


Given all these fundamental hurdles that exist in building a creative economy, the first step would be to launch a detailed study into the exact nature & challenges faced by the 14 creative sectors.

Avoiding a research phase is risky. Without a detailed study it would be impossible to take informed decisions and arrive at an effective plan. Reverting to ‘solutionism’ without knowing exactly what to do and how to measure the results at the end of the project, will only and lead to a series of ad-hoc programmes and schemes which may not have the desired result of transforming the Thai economy into a creative economy.

Take for example the following case. A challenges of a company is a microcosm of the challenges faced by an entire nation.

A typical and familiar case in Thailand

Recently we visited Thailand’s largest ‘contract manufacturer’ for some of the top 50 global brands (as rated by Interbrand [19]),

They have everything that is necessary, R&D facilities, design departments, engineering, sales & marketing departments, foreign trips to events and exhibitions on latest trends, but still, their products were selling for less than one-tenth the price of the global branded product, they were producing in the same factory!

On further enquiry, the company’s senior management  confessed to not knowing how to develop their own winning products.

It was apparent that 30 years of being OEM (original equipment manufacturers) for world leading companies has not lead to any knowledge transfer from the global companies on how to create winning products. All they knew was to make container loads of products at low prices to the exact specifications of their clients.

All that disappeared when the global brand decided to relocate their operations to a cheaper country. What might have also influenced the decision was the availability of high skilled design and technical R&D talent at lower costs than in Thailand, justifying the shift and breaking a 30 year old relationship.

Now the Thai company is looking for ways to enhance their understanding of design & innovation and make the shift from an OEM to an ODM (original design manufacture)

As the above case illustrates, the main hurdle is not knowing what to do. It is knowing how to do it and do it fast. It needs to out innovate its competitors or else it will slowly dwindle into a has been.

The biggest hurdle for most companies is the lack of availability of a strategic & visionary thinking capabilities to make that transformation.

Big opportunities areas for funding:

This list is not exhaustive, is continually evolving and needs further research

Skill enhancement.Series of skill enhancing programmes at various levels: community, corporate, entrepreneurial, government and university level programmes to upgrade the skills of the Thai workforce preparing them for working in a creative economy. This must be the area where maximum effort and funds need to be allocated. Everybody knows that creativity and design can help companies innovate but the issue is how does one enhance the talent and technological capability of the workforce?  It is an urgent necessity and it cannot be offset by importing talent as Richard Florida suggests. It must be home grown.

Enhancing university and industry linkages.Most of the universities do not have an active R&D agenda. The industries on the other hand are primarily into contact manufacturing or operating in low -skill based sectors like handicraft and cultural goods. Funding collaborative R&D projects between universities and industry can potentially unlock hidden talent.

Focus on Green: Green, eco-friendly, energy efficient, alternative sources of energy are no longer a fad but a reality facing the world. This also offers huge opportunities for R&D organisations and entrepreneurs to come up with innovative solutions.

Focus on Technology: A big push in this area will reap huge rewards for Thailand. Investing in incubation programmes, technology and design or technology and creative sector collaborative projects have the potential to unleash the latent creativity. International collaborations with local R&D organisations also helps building the absorptive capability of Thai R&D facilities.

Building an idea culture: Great ideas do not emerge out of a work context or a society which demands conformism. Trust, freedom, open debates, accepting failure, risk taking, dealing with ambiguity are all essential ingredients of a society that ideates. Investment in idea camps and competitions in collaboration with universities and young entrepreneurs as well as network meets and seminars with venture capitalists and investors.

Proliferate: Building systems to share, spread ideas, share capabilities, knowledge, processes through open source initiatives.

Celebrate thinking: Closely related to the above idea is the appreciation of thinking as a vital part of building a creative economy. Communities that have encouraged thinking have been a source of world changing ideas. The Lunar Society of UK for example was a dinner club and an informal society of prominent industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals who met regularly in Birmingham in the 18th and 19th century. Members included Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Galton Junior, James Keir, Joseph Priestley, Jonathan Stokes, Josiah Wedgwood, James Watt, John Whitehurst and William Withering. The industrial revolution is largely attributed to this group which commercialized the ideas that changed the world.

  • UAE has realised the importance of a thinking culture and the 3rd Festival of Thinkers is being organised in Abu Dhabi, in November 2009, which hopes to bring Nobel laureates, well-known intellectuals and students from the UAE and neighboring countries to celebrate “the power and importance of thinking.” The event, focuses on nine themes that are key to shaping the future of the Middle East and the rest of the global community such as “Moving beyond the Global Crisis,” “Envisioning Sustainable Development” and “Promoting Science and Technology.” world health, the globalization of culture and language, development economics and poverty alleviation, and military spending, research and innovation, among others.(
  • Good policies with far reaching effects, result out of such forums. Discussing, debating, ideating and thinking is not an avoidable utopian activity, but is a necessity in the modern economy.

Focus on synergised events rather than stand alone events: In terms of cost, reach and efficiency, a synergised event hold the potential to have a better impact. Connecting all the stakeholders, creative people, funding organizers, tech companies and promoters to build a better creative sector. For example the  CoFesta - Japan International Contents Festival is the world's largest comprehensive contents festival which provides a single platform for international collaboration & business as well as exchange of world contents and sharing of ideas among people concerned with digital, animation, gaming content.

Empower small regional groups: In the knowledge &  creative economy innovation emerges ‘bottom-up’ from the people (eg. Informally biased creativity by firms, SME’s, entrepreneurs, community groups), while policy makers (eg. formal strategy formulation by government agencies, head offices of large organisations) and institutionalised innovation policies (eg. Formal R&D institutions, universities) primarily take a ‘top-down’ approach (fig.16)

The Local Community Knowledge and Creativity’ with ‘Informal Grassroots Movements’ is rarely considered as a primary element of the current Innovation System there by alienating the local communities, SMEs and entrepreneurs.

In reality SMEs, local communities and small groups of entrepreneurs contribute to a large extent to the Creative economy outstripping the institutionalised innovation in companies.

Richard Florida argues in the context of a Creative Economy: “Real economic development is people oriented, organic, and community based. While certain initiatives may help to encourage [creativity’s] emergence, and others will certainly squelch it, the development of environments cannot be planned from above.”


Community, or Creative Community (Source: Quick, L.,2004) in its broadest possible interpretation covers a group of people who are linked together in a network and participating in or sharing the same locality, interests, practices, organisation, or culture. They apply their knowledge and creativity to inspire people, to share information, ply their creativity, create and exchange ideas, and solve problems and create opportunity within their, and other’s communities – in order to bring into existence a thing, or people in a way that will develop and advantage their community.In doing so, a Creative Community may take on many different forms. They may be a Creative Community based on:

  •     Location:San Francisco, Melbourne, Oxford, Brunswick, Rhode Island.
  •     Practice:Doctors, artists, engineers, economic development
  •     Interests:Politics, history, astronomy
  •     Cultural group:Italian community, Buddhist community
  •     Organisation:Corporation, school, agency, small to medium business, department, unit.
  •     Cluster:A group of interdependent organizations acting together for their common good.

Deskilling is the process by which skilled labour within an industry or economy is eliminated by the introduction of technologies operated by semiskilled or unskilled workers. Work is fragmented, and individuals lose the integrated skills and comprehensive knowledge of the crafts persons.Examples include CNC machine tools replacing machinists and assembly line workers replacing artisans and craftsmen.

Dissonance (n):Lack of agreement. In this case it is referred to as maintaining a Creative Tension at work. Is based on the idea that dissonance between where we are and where we want to be motivates creative action.

Data, Information, Knowledge: We can distinguish between information, data and knowledge. Data comes through research and collection. Information is organised data. Knowledge is built upon information. Data and information are easily transferrable; knowledge built by a person is rather difficult to transfer to another

Global labor arbitrage is an economic phenomenon where, as a result of the removal of or disintegration of barriers to international trade, jobs move to nations where labor is inexpensive and/or impoverished labor moves to nations with higher paying jobs.

Skills (National Center for O*NET Development, - U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA)’s definition of Skills). Source:, Accessed on 17th June 2009

1. Basic Skills: Developed capacities that facilitate learning or the more rapid acquisition of knowledge

  • Active Learning: Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Active Listening: Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Critical Thinking: Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
  • Learning Strategies: Selecting and using training / instructional methods and procedures appropriate for the situation when learning or teaching new things.
  • Mathematics: Using mathematics to solve problems.
  • Monitoring: Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.
  • Reading Comprehension: Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.
  • Science: Using scientific rules and methods to solve problems.
  • Speaking: Talking to others to convey information effectively.
  • Writing: Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.

2. Complex Problem Solving Skills: Developed capacities used to solve novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings

  • Complex Problem Solving - Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.

3. Resource Management Skills: Developed capacities used to allocate resources efficiently

  • Management of Financial Resources - Determining how money will be spent to get the work done, and accounting for these expenditures.
  • Management of Material Resources - Obtaining and seeing to the appropriate use of equipment, facilities, and materials needed to do certain work.
  • Management of Personnel Resources - Motivating, developing, and directing people as they work, identifying the best people for the job.
  • Time Management - Managing one's own time and the time of others.

4. Social Skills: Developed capacities used to work with people to achieve goals

  • Coordination - Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
  • Instructing - Teaching others how to do something.
  • Negotiation - Bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences.
  • Persuasion - Persuading others to change their minds or behavior.
  • Service Orientation - Actively looking for ways to help people.
  • Social Perceptiveness - Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.

5. Systems Skills: Developed capacities used to understand, monitor, and improve socio-technical systems

  • Judgment and Decision Making - Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
  • Systems Analysis - Determining how a system should work and how changes in conditions, operations, and the environment will affect outcomes.
  • Systems Evaluation - Identifying measures or indicators of system performance and the actions needed to improve or correct performance, relative to the goals of the system.

6. Technical Skills: Developed capacities used to design, set-up, operate, and correct malfunctions involving application of machines or technological systems

  • Equipment Maintenance - Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
  • Equipment Selection - Determining the kind of tools and equipment needed to do a job.
  • Installation - Installing equipment, machines, wiring, or programs to meet specifications.
  • Operation and Control - Controlling operations of equipment or systems.
  • Operation Monitoring - Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.
  • Operations Analysis - Analyzing needs and product requirements to create a design.
  • Programming - Writing computer programs for various purposes.
  • Quality Control Analysis - Conducting tests and inspections of products, services, or processes to evaluate quality or performance.
  • Repairing - Repairing machines or systems using the needed tools.
  • Technology Design - Generating or adapting equipment and technology to serve user needs.
  • Troubleshooting - Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.


  1. Richard Florida, M.K., The New Age of Capitalism: Innovation-Mediated Production. Futures, The Journal of Forecasting and Planning, 1993. July-August 1993: p. 637.
  2. McKinney, P., The Creative Economy. 2008, Business Alliance Bootcamp for Growing Companies and Entrepreneurs-Tysons Corner, Virginia.
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  4. Wikipedia, Global Labour Arbitrage, in Wikipedia. 2009.
  5. Friedman, T.L. MNC Software Companies Are In India For IQ Suck.  2005 October 17, 2005 [cited 2009; Available from:
  6. Struggles, H., Mapping Global Talent, Essays and Insights. 2007, The Economist Intelligence Unit Ltd and Heidrick & Struggles International Inc. .
  7. Kearney, A.T., The Shifting Geography of Offshoring. 2009.
  8. Creative Economy Report 2008. 2008, UNCTAD: Geneva. p. 357.
  9. Absorptive capacity. Available from:
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  11. Hofstede, G. Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions.  2009  [cited 2009 20th October 2009]; Available from:
  12. Dobbins, M., Urban Design And People. 2009, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
  13. Charles Landry, F.B., The Creative City. 1995, Demos: London.
  14. Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., & Foy, P., TIMSS 2007 International Science Report. 2008, TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.: Chestnut Hill, MA.
  15. Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., & Foy, P, TIMSS 2007 International Mathematics Report. 2008, TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.: Chestnut Hill, MA.
  16. Berger, M., Upgrading the System of Innovation in Late-Industrialising Countries – The Role of Transnational Corporations in Thailand’s Manufacturing Sector, in Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. 2005, Christian-Albrechts-Universität: Kiel.
  17. Russel, N., What Foreign Companies Want from Thai Schools, in Thai-American Business. 2007: Bnagkok.
  18. Quick, L., Creating 21 st Century Capable Innovation Systems, Unleashing Creativity through Open Platform Innovation. 2004, New Commons.
  19. Interbrand. Best Global Brands.  2009  [cited 2009 25th September]; Available from:


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  • Date public: 2010-04-01
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