Provocation Article 2: This is the second in a series of provocative articles taken from a paper by Platform-7’s founder critiquing the fad for hubs and the idea (within the UK) of the creative economy. These article will appear over the summer of 2014 in advance of a major new Platform-7 intervention, Creative Publics, beginning Autumn 2014.
The present trend in London and other global cities (Pratt and others) are ‘hubs’. Generally geared towards the ‘entrepreneur’, a misunderstood word adapted to apply to any person (particularly a young person) who has any urge to develop a business idea, the hub gives an opportunity to network and meet ‘like-minded entrepreneurs’. The marketing pitch is to develop pools of similar thinking individuals who cross-fertilise ideas creating new innovative ideas.
The defect in such a hub approach is that the ‘entrepreneur’ is not an act, as is commonly prescribed, it is a thought process or personal philosophy applied to business. Entrepreneurs are very similar to artists, as they tend to have a single mindset that becomes focused on detail, often seeming obsessional to those who are not artists or entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs and artists are commonly, by default, individual characters, maintaining a general distain for societal normalities. Allowing that this premise is correct, hubs have an inherent issue in attracting people who are singular in vision, and at their very core a convicted individual, into a collaborative environment of sharing and development. It does not and will not happen to any great degree. Hubs are from the outset intrinsically flawed.
Spinning out of this misplaced understanding of how innovative ideas form is the buzz amongst university management to encourage the breakdown of discipline walls. In the business world, getting people out of their ‘silos’ (Ensor, 1988) has been the Holy Grail of business schools and consultants alike for three decades. The British government speak of a nation of innovators, with little or no understanding of the irony of such statements, and are insisting public sector workers become more ‘entrepreneurial’, or from a Marxist perspective, more like the human tools of capital.
We are not all artists and we cannot all be entrepreneurs, if this was the case we could not have society as it is presently structured. Creating a paradigm (Wood, 2014) where the society is all artists or entrepreneurs and there is a determinacy of thought (Hegel) is, from the position of our present paradigm in which we all exist, impossible to conceive. Hubs provide affordable space for people to work on ‘their own project’ but offer little in true communication that is required to develop new ideas and rethinking the unthought to create the unimagined.
The main issue with hubs is they operate more as a small-town or village rather than the metropolis in which they are usually situated. As with villages in Antiquity that ‘set barriers against movement and relations of the individual toward the outside, and it set up barriers against individual independence and differentiation within the individual self’ (Simmel) hubs inadvertently work on similar terms. The spaces are constructed to develop thinking along a marketing approach offering ‘cool’ and ‘innovative workshops’. But on closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear these ‘workshops’ are no more than information transfer of rules that exist; tools made of existing conventions are provided, not routes to the imagination. Standards are reinforced rather than smashed, Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’ (1934) is generally misrepresented or misunderstood, usually by those deemed to be experts. The innate barriers hubs imply directly affect those who become members by creating a predesigned village that is already on a predetermined path that will manifest exactly as envisaged. A reinforcement of the status quo and everyone in the village is content yet the result will be little different to any other hub and the resulting ‘outputs’, i.e. new ideas or innovations, will be little more than incremental advances or, more than not, another parasitic business model. Quickly one town looks much like the next.
Hubs have to be more like the metropolis. A place of edge, where there is no possibility of knowing everyone and everything that is happening. Even in the most comfortable of cities a slight fear pervades; an awareness that anything can suddenly happen directly impacting those near to the happening, meanwhile the rest of the city continues virtually unaffected. Entrepreneurs and artist feed from the discomfort, they yearn for the security like everyone else but they also hate the very same protection. Like a city loving man stuck in a small town, the yearning to escape becomes unbearable. ‘The smaller the circle which forms our milieu is, and the more restricted those relations to others are which dissolve the boundaries of the individual, the more anxiously the circle guards the achievements, the conduct of life, and the outlook of the individual, and the more readily a quantitative and qualitative specialisation would break up the framework of the whole little circle.’ (Simmel).
Provocation Article 2: Click to read other articles:
Schumpeter, Joseph A. (1942), Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, George, Allen & Unwin (Publishers) Ltd 1976, USA
Simmel, Georg, (1903), The Metropolis and Mental Life, translation in Kurt H Wolff (ed.), The Sociology of George Simmel, Glencoe, 1950, found in Art In theory 1900 + 1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, (2001) Charles Harrison and Paul Woods, pp130-135, Blackwall
Wood, John (2014) Plato’s understanding of ‘paradigm’, Metadesigners.org,, online [found at http://metadesigners.org/Paradigm-Glossary]