Value of heritage

Creativity flourishes when embedded in a community that emphasises a deep sense of place. A sense of place encompasses an emotional attachment to a particular geographical and cultural space, a shared experience of history and community. Rich in tacit knowledge, it informs people’s sense of who they are, where they are, where they have come from and where they are trying to go.

Erosion of a sense of place is sometimes cited as an indicator of confidence and independence. This view is deeply flawed. In a world of global markets, rapid transportation and high-speed communications, location and culture are becoming more, not less important. Advantage lies in difference captured by special places and shared values. Being distinctive, thinking differently and having different information enable a community to be creative and innovative. The more complex and dynamic the global economy becomes, the more this is likely to be true.

Special places possess distinctive, inimitable, rare, not easily substitutable and valuable resources. Ireland possesses such resources in abundance, thereby providing ideal conditions for creativity and innovation, a fact clearly not appreciated by policy-makers.

As capacities of the mind become more crucial, human attitudes and meaning, heavily influenced by heritage and tradition, are key. Imagination, the most valuable resource of all, is driven primarily by emotions and feelings, the heart rather than rational mind. It is founded on inspiration, identity, memory, belonging and trust, rooted in individuals, communities and in the social and economic fabric of local relationships and a shared identity.

In today’s network economy, value rises as meaning deepens, as knowledge moves from information to understanding and wisdom, illustrated in digital media by content, originality in crafts, local expertise in food and tradition in farming practices. The quality of knowledge depends on a cultural perspective, and is now more important than ever. Many technology companies, for instance, spend more on the symbolic aspects of their products than on technical development per se. In innovation, while scientific research or information mediated by computers certainly does matter, what is more crucial is to create conditions where meanings, experiences, identities and resourcefulness prosper. This is why Ireland’s distinctive heritage potentially offer an enormous competitive advantage.

Creative places provide an integrated eco-system where all forms of creativity – artistic and cultural, technological and economic – take root and flourish. A place’s special cultural, social and natural environment, are crucial to its economic base. The implication is clear: places that emphasise heritage and community will attract and keep the most creative people and organisations, be the most innovative and have the highest quality of life. These places will be multi-culturally diverse, fiercely proud and respectful of the past, have a sustainable ethic and be unique!

France and Italy, for instance, illustrate the importance of heritage and culture as competitive strengths. Culture is a core pillar of the French economy, crucial for attracting tourists. As the country’s first Culture Minister, writer André Malraux, put it, ‘Anyone who has to design for the future has to leaf through the past’. Italian design is impossible to imitate, a heritage of arts and crafts resources developed over generations, a critical innovative resource. Both countries have great reputations for artisan industries based on the terroir of their soil, and the social and cultural attributes of their regions. Champagne, wines, beers, cheeses, breads and other food products have subtle nuances and characteristics attributable to their place of origin.

Influential business thinkers like Harvard University’s Michael Porter argue that capitalism must now reinvent itself to combine profit and social purpose. The unique history and culture of a particular place are ideal at fostering organisations both market-driven and mission-centred. By nurturing the intrinsic qualities of a place, such organisations contribute long-term economic value to a community. Operating in the blurry space between for-profit and not-for profit sectors, these place-based organisations provide the catalyst to build vibrant communities by grounding their missions in the history, culture and ecology of the surrounding environment.

The social animal innovates when there is room for individual commitment, a sense of belonging and an awareness of his or her own capabilities, feelings and emotions. Creativity is founded on a spirit of self-reliance and relationships based on community trust, tradition and civic engagement. It is driven by stories that create a rich visual imagery. Far from representing dead artifacts that are anti-modern and non-economic, stories potentially represent significant assets that foster innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and meaning, and these in turn, are a dynamic source of competitive advantage. Valuing folklore, for instance, is not merely an exercise in naïve nostalgia, or an attempt to turn back the clock to some perceived idyllic golden age. In a globalising world, ‘the local’ matters most so exposure, for example, to placenames and folklore is ideal for helping the young navigate between the local and global.

In the innovation age, a deep sense of the past is central to creativity, contributing to wholeness, integrity, civic responsibility, aesthetic sensibility and ecological stewardship. Pride in place and heritage along with a new emphasis on sustainability and biodiversity, should form the bedrock for Ireland’s innovation economy. This is our great opportunity, yet still an undoubted challenge, if we are to achieve a truly creative and dynamic learning society.

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