Social Capital and Creativity
by Harriet Mayor Fulbright
The 2004 Global Leadership Forum, held in Istanbul,
Turkey, June 24-27, focused on four major themes: (I) Humane
National and International; (II) Inter-Cultural Cooperation and
Capacity Building; (III) Corporate Social Responsibility; and
(IV) Panel on Education and the Development of Global Leaders.
It was attended by nearly one hundred academic, corporate and
NGO leaders and scholars from over 30 countries. The proceedings
of the conference will be published early next year. In the meantime,
additional information is available at GLO’s website: www.bahcesehir.edu.tr/leadership.
John Cimino, President and CEO of Creative Leaps
International, attended the Forum. In addition to presenting
his own research
on ‘leadership development and the mind processes of the
arts,’ Cimino also contributed musical performance as complement
to the keynote presentation of Harriet Mayor Fulbright. Fulbright
is the Former Clinton Administration Director of the President’s
Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and is currently the Goodwill
Ambassador for the Fulbright Scholars Program. Fulbright took this
opportunity to address, on an international level, the importance
of social capital and creativity: what she refers to as “critically
important foundations of community life.”
The following is an excerpt of Fulbright’s
Social Capital and Creativity in the International Arena
27 June 2004
Harriet Mayor Fulbright
…There are two main types of social
capital: bonding and bridging. The first describes linkages between
people who live
close by, who are similar in crucial respects and tend to be inward-looking.
One good example is the family business which outperforms other
businesses. It seems clear that the high degree of trust and communication
are the keys to the success of this type of enterprise. On the
opposite end of the scale, the complete lack of social capital
leads to the tragic results seen in the Sudan.
Bridging, or connections which include
different types of people who are outward-looking, resemble you
who are sitting before me
now. The nurturing of the bridging type of social capital creates
a much better understanding between peoples of differing cultures.
It takes more work to establish and expand, but in this era of
weapons of mass destruction and indescribable hatred fueling the
actions of some groups, it is ever more important for our wellbeing – important
for reasons beyond the recent terrorist activities.
A recent study in the United States shows that social capital
has been suffering a steady decline over the past 40 years, and
the effects of that decline are causing concern. The increase in
the use of locks, warnings to children not to speak to strangers,
and senseless homicides cannot be blamed on the horrific acts of
The second human quality under scrutiny
today and especially prized – one
that sets us apart from the animal kingdom - is creativity. As
John Cimino said, it is a powerful source of insight and transformation
feeding directly into the thinking, feeling and acting of daily
life, an essential element as we face constant change.
Creativity or ingenuity is defined by writer
Thomas Homer-Dixon as “ideas that can be applied to solve practical technical
and social problems”, such as the problems that arise from
water pollution, cropland erosion and the like. Ingenuity includes
not only truly new ideas that, though not fundamentally novel,
are nonetheless useful. Social theorists have long known that something
like ingenuity or creativity is the key to social well-being and
economic prosperity. Experts in history, economics, organizational
theory and cognitive science recognize that an adequate flow of
the right kind of ideas is vital, and that we need to understand
the factors that govern this flow.”
Homer-Dixon goes on to separate creativity into two types. There
is technical creativity and social creativity. Technical creativity
is used to create new technologies, new strains of products, and
new systems of operation that solve such problems as irrigation
in areas where water is scarce. In this area of activity, the human
race has performed miracles.
Just to mention a few advances, in the
beginning of the 20th century in the same year my father was
born – and he is still very
much alive - the first national radio program was broadcast in
the United States, marking the beginning of mass communication.
Just two years earlier the Wright brothers made their miraculous
flight of 120 feet, in a double winged plane capable of carrying
only the pilot, and it started a revolution in transportation and
even the exploration of outer space. Shortly after the turn of
the century Einstein announced the development of his theory of
relativity, which totally changed the way we look at the world.
Scientists have since studied our planetary system and the universe
beyond, using not only powerful telescopes but space satellites
with the capacity to travel millions of miles beyond our atmosphere.
They have at the same time performed extraordinary studies on particles
so small we can know them only by the trails they leave, and this
research has led to discoveries about power at once more destructive
and at the same time more magically beneficial than anyone could
have imagined a century ago. Our technical creativity has, in other
words, powered progress at the speed of light.
Social ingenuity, the second type, is what we use to develop public
and private institutions to improve daily life and to establish
ways of economic, political and social behavior for the smooth
functioning of communities or nations. The willingness to study
trends to help foresee future developments and to take collective
collaborative action are essential requirements for improvements
of the social arena, and here we have not performed as well.
In less than 150 years we have gone from
a global population of one billion souls to one that is about
six billion, and more than ¾ of
the people live in poverty in developing countries. With regard
to the planet’s flora and fauna, we are losing habitat and
biodiversity daily and will continue to do so without significant
shifts in our treatment of our surroundings. With the loss of both,
we reduce our capacity to respond to the stresses of everyday life.
Finally, the unequal distribution of resources - human, natural,
educational, technological, and financial - amount to an unequal
ability to respond to these stresses, and this inequality has been
Education was supposed to show us the way to solutions in this
area. In fact, there was a time when societies around the world
felt that the existing body of knowledge was manageable and that,
when mastered, it would give people the confidence to function
in their chosen paths in life and instill in them a method of study
when confronted with the unknown.
But the times are so different now. Massive amounts of information,
coming at us not only in print but through sound and visual images,
require a radically different approach to learning and understanding.
Add to that the fact that education is now associated with what
is needed for employment rather than expansion of the mind or the
nurturing of creativity.
…In the United States education is considered one of the
nation’s top priorities, but the path to excellence is not
clear. Unfortunately a depressing amount of money is spent on boring
exercises in rote learning that actually discourage both creativity
and social interaction. One student was heard to remark that he
was so glad that his school did not have any sex education courses
because then he would be bored with that as well.
The challenge is to find the best methods
of encouraging and developing imagination and creativity – something
each human being has 1,000 times more of than is put to use.
This is best done by those
who know how to inspire their students of all ages and to channel
their extraordinary energy in positive directions. It is especially
important because the paths we follow into the future are so critical.
Never before have the consequences of our actions been so far-reaching,
long-lasting or powerful.
…Thomas Homer-Dixon summed it up in this way: “As
ingenuity gaps widen the gulfs of wealth and power among us, we
need imagination, metaphor and empathy more than ever, to help
us remember each other’s essential humanity. I believe this
will be the central challenge of the century before us – one
that will shape everything else about who we are and what we become.
Anatol Rapoport, a pioneering mathematical psychologist and one
the wisest people I have ever known, once told me: The moral development
of a civilization is measured by the breadth of its sense of community.” Have
we paid enough attention to the moral development of the global
civilization we are creating today?”
We can no longer ignore the need for social capital or a sense
of community and the kind of environment conducive to creative
thinking about the problems already visible on the horizon of the
future. We are too good at focusing on present dangers requiring
immediate solutions at the expense of thinking about fundamental
issues that need preventive rather than corrective measures. We
prefer the search for more water and oil to investigations into
conservation methods or alternate sources of energy. We must come
to terms with the fact that our long-term security depends more
on our international alliances and exchanges and our collaborative
activities than on our military and economic might. For this reason
I am deeply grateful to Enver Yucel for his commitment to conferences
promoting thoughtful discussions of these vital issues.
And make no mistake – this is not
simply idle chatter among academics. One of our most noted anthropologists
urged us not to
underestimate the power of a small determined band of people to
change the world. In fact, it is the only force that has changed
the world. And as you do so, I will be cheering you on.