Adapt or Die: The Case for Creativity and Design in Economic Development

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

I’ve been reading a lot about artificial intelligence (AI) lately. The potential of AI is truly awe inspiring and driverless cars are just the beginning. Technology is already on track to replace human jobs for truck drivers, retail sales, stock traders and financial reporting and several other industries. Some would argue that lost or declining 21st century jobs can be brought back. This is nonsensical. Technology will not be stifled and the jobs of the future don’t even exist yet. It's gotten me thinking more and more about the importance of creativity and design in sustainable economic development.

According to a May 2017 report from the Pew Research Center what we will need in the future is:

“… a workforce with “social and emotional intelligence and unique human skills that artificial intelligence (AI) and machines seem unable to replicate - namely the ability to efficiently network, manage public relations and marketing, and display intercultural sensitivity. Workers of the future will learn to deeply cultivate and exploit creativity, collaborative activity, abstract and systems thinking, complex communication, and the ability to thrive in diverse environments.”

Firstly, dispel the notion that creativity and design is just the fluff used to make things pretty and that they have nothing to do with ‘serious’ topics like economic development. 

Secondly, let’s define these tools, shall we? Creativity can be defined in many ways, but the most commonly accepted definition is that it involves using ones imagination to generate new ideas and ways of seeing the world. This applies to innovation in technology and business to create competitive advantages. Along with creativity we need design. Think of design as  the link between creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. 

Let me break down exactly why this matters: If we don’t adapt our paradigm about creativity and design we will die. 

The Argument for Sustainable Economic Development in the Caribbean

Independent research from the Commonwealth Secretariat, United Nations Committee for Development Policy and Commonwealth Development Bank all conclude that Caribbean small island states are “highly vulnerable to external environmental forces” particularly with market globalization.

Even with somewhat better macroeconomic management by countries in the region, the 2008 financial crisis illustrated the fact the economies which were most dependent on the US economy were the hardest hit. Moreover, in Latin America and Caribbean economies, the slow upswing of productivity, diversification and innovation hinder competitive growth. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Caribbean is having a wicked hurricane season that is thought to be a symptom of climate change. That means that we are likely to see more devastating hurricanes and environmental catastrophes. 

For the past six decades, The Bahamas has relied on the tourism and financial services industries - a two-sector economic development model. It worked because our geographic location was a competitive advantage. However, with advancing technology and greater freedom of movement, advantages and threats are no longer confined to geographical borders. 

We need creativity and design because we need to find solutions for complex problems.

If we continue with the status quo, we will forever have to depend on others to come from outside of the region to provide solutions for sustainable economic growth and impending environmental challenges. And if they don’t come at all or come with poor solutions, then what?

The initial challenge around developing this type of thinking is making the investment in human capital to change how we educate school children and university students. The second is developing a culture that embraces this type of thinking in order to attract Bahamians who can contribute to The Bahamas. This is something that the private sector must drive because we cannot wait for the government. 

In addition to economic and human capital development, sustainable development planning can help to reduce the level of social inequality. We want all of this but it cannot begin without creativity and innovation and design to develop what we do. It will be a tough road, but I remain optimistic. Like Dr. Cornell West says, I’m a prisoner of hope. 

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I'm a strategic marketing communication consultant who works with premium brands to tell compelling brand stories, guide perception, drive engagement and build loyalty to win hearts and wallets. Find out more about me at, follow me on Twitter @royanndean and Linkedin.

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