In her foreword to an important new report today from the Crafts Council, Annie Warburton cites David Pye's The Nature and Art of Workmanship from 1968 where he considers the skilled manipulation of material that affords unplanned breakthroughs. This characterisation of craft should make it clear why it is intimately related to what we commonly understand as innovation.
For all the limitations of the official statistics in measuring craft activity, and thanks to the Crafts Council's earlier research we know that these limitations are many, they do show one undeniable feature: namely, the embeddedness of craft activity across different sectors of the economy. In fact, it turns out that craft occupations are amongst the most widely distributed of creative occupations across industries.
This combination – the intrinsic potential of craft to contribute to innovation, and the high degree of embeddedness of craft – raises the possibility that craft may be making very significant contributions to innovation – and therefore growth – in the UK economy. Or, as the report puts it, innovation through craft as opposed to innovation in craft.
Although it is intuitive, finding quantitative evidence of the causal linkages between different activities like craft and business innovation is exceptionally difficult, because a business's propensity to undertake activities like craft is likely anyway to be correlated with its propensity to innovate. That is why rigorous qualitative research of the type undertaken by KPMG for the Crafts Council in today’s report is so important.
This work should be seen as an example of a wider effort to understand the role of creativity in driving economic growth – an effort which has in the UK, given the understandable focus on fast-growing individual sectors (the creative industries), paid insufficient attention to the cross-sectoral innovation that is the subject of this report. This is a theme that Nesta has long championed in studies like Beyond the Creative Industries, Creating Innovation, and Creative Credits.
For more information on the report, read the blog post by Julia Bennett, Head of Research and Policy at the Crafts Council.