Bird LoveGod: Creativity and the advantage of being human

On Tuesday last week I had the pleasure and good fortune to catch the last hour of a fireside chat with Nick Bax. It was one of a series of events at the Cooper Building in Sheffield, where successful business people are invited to share some of their experiences in an informal open, ‘ask a question anytime’ format.

16th April  2013
Pictured a Sheffield city skyline showing the supertram line and city centre
Picture by Gerard Binks
16th April 2013 Pictured a Sheffield city skyline showing the supertram line and city centre Picture by Gerard Binks

Nick is the MD of HumanStudio, a creative agency based in the commercial offices of the redeveloped Park Hill flats. One of the questions posed to Nick was how do they find business based in Sheffield? Surely London is where it’s at?

Having lived in both cities, I can understand the pros and cons to some degree. London is a downward escalator that everyone has to run up. Pause or stop and you’ll soon end up at the bottom. One result of this treadmill mentality is that employees are always looking for the next opportunity to move on, and businesses are always looking to hire. Staff turnover is a continuous churn, 18 months is a long time to spend in a single company. There’s little loyalty, it’s all about the next opportunity, the next rung on the ladder.

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Nick offered this perspective.

“I have a relatively young team, some of whom have families, and they can afford to buy decent-sized family homes here in Sheffield. There’s no way they could do that if we were a London-based company. Also, we all live relatively close to the city centre, no-one has a one hour commute. Work-life balance is essential for companies like Human.”

Nick explains they have clients from all over the world, USA, Japan, Canada, Germany, Holland & China and they all have no problem with dealing with an agency in Sheffield. London companies are apparently more hesitant to do business outside the City. I can completely relate to this, London is a bubble all of itself, a set of ecosystems within multiple regions relating to various business sectors.

The tech and start-up scene is centred around East London, Shoreditch and Old Street especially. The fintech sector is largely housed in one of the Canary Wharf towers, with the exception of Barclays Rise, the fintech accelerator, which is based back in Shoreditch. The fashion sector is predominantly in Soho and the creative and design agencies are also clustered in these areas. London can be very small sometimes, very London centric. It’s also ridiculously expensive. I ask Nick how being based in Sheffield gives HumanStudio an advantage.

“Obviously Sheffield doesn’t have a creative environment like London in terms of size, but there are advantages to that. We would have far more competition for work if we were based in the capital. There would be lots of potential candidates when we need to recruit, but it would be a huge challenge to retain people – they would be far more likely to move on.”

Another interesting point Nick made relates to the global geographies of industry. He summed it up: The hardware is from China, that’s where it’s made, there’s no need to compete with that. The operating systems and software are from the US, again, that’s not the area where the UK should be focussing. Our strength is, and always has been, the creative content. We’ve always been world leaders in creativity, and creativity is what we’re known to be great at.

As Nick puts it: “The UK has always punched above its weight in terms of creativity. From pop music, fashion and cinema to fine art, literature and performance – we’ve always been trailblazers with a unique creative vision. Organisations around the world know this and are excited to work with companies like Human. From autonomous vehicles to mixed reality theatre, UK-produced digital content provides huge potential for growth and will play a vital part in our future economy.”

And this is why the arts and creativity should be valued far higher in schools. Creativity, once nurtured and developed, can be applied in any and every role, in every commercial and public sector. This is what politicians seem to be blind to. It’s not about the number of jobs in ‘the arts’.

It’s about developing the ability to apply creativity and artistry to any and every role. And in an ever increasing digital economy, with AI predicted to replace millions of jobs, creativity is one of the advantages, perhaps the only advantage, that we humans have.