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Futurist Interviews

Futurist Interviews

Creative Hothouses
An Interview with Barton Kunstler

THE FUTURIST: Throughout history, patronage and other forms of financial support have played a significant role in nurturing creativity. Is this still very much the case?

Barton Kunstler: Someone always pays for creativity. Renaissance patrons were not simply personal sponsors, though; their commissions were very often public works. In ancient Athens, the city itself played the role of patron. So patronage can be seen as one model of how a society pays for its creativity.

I see patronage more as an instrument of the hothouse effect rather than its cause. When the hothouse effect takes off, it usually generates the resources it needs.

THE FUTURIST: What, if any, role should the public sector play in supporting business creativity?

Kunstler: One way might be through supporting creative programs in public schools. Every school should be a creative hothouse and, if it is, students will bring that creativity and high performance to the workplace. Government should fund creative projects, but I don’t think government is a suitable engine of creativity in a business setting.

THE FUTURIST: Does the Internet culture make it easier or harder to nurture a creative hothouse environment? In other words, is face-to-face interaction among creative people an important element of the hothouse strategy?

Kunstler: The Net’s wealth of information, networks, highly visual environment, multiple applications, and global access offer a version of the important but elusive hothouse factor of "rapid exposure to meta-systems." But the Net itself cannot provide that automatically. Learning to use the Net optimally is not about information management, but about knowledge management.

The Net’s amazing--you can learn a lot about five or six subject areas in a few hours, link ideas and data in very creative ways, but you need the understanding and time to generate useful results.

THE FUTURIST: Are virtual organizations more or less likely to pursue hothouse strategies? How might they adapt some of the strategies you described?

Kunstler: The virtual organization is not a likely hothouse candidate, but you can set up virtual workgroups that function as hothouses for a short time.

Isolation makes people more prone to misinterpret or overreact to the messages they receive. In a virtual organization, communication may be dazzlingly fast, but connections between people become very tenuous and thin.

This interview is adapted from "Building a Creative Hothouse: Strategies of History's Most Creative Groups" by Barton Kunstler, THE FUTURIST (January-February 2001).

Barton Kunstler is a professor and program director at the Lesley University School of Management. He also writes "A Futurist View," a biweekly column for Metrowest Daily News. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Kunstler has also discussed creative hothouses in "The Hothouse Effect: Time Proven Strategies of History's Most Creative Groups," Futures Research Quarterly (Spring 2000).

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 Interview posted on 5 July 2001.

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