Review by Tracey Callinan, Revealing the Hidden

To cite this review

Callinan, Tracey. Review of Hidden Innovation: Policy, Industry and the Creative Sector, by Stuart Cunningham. Fusion Journal, no. 2, 2013.


On 4 April 2013, Mark Scott, Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, launched Stuart Cunningham’s book, Hidden Innovation: Policy, Industry And The Creative Sector at Gleebooks, an independent bookshop in a Sydney inner-west suburb. fusion is grateful to Mark Scott and Professor Cunningham for giving us permission to publish their speeches at this event. These are followed by a review from Tracey Callinan,  Executive Officer and Regional Arts development Officer at Arts Out West 1 and a Doctoral candidate at Charles Sturt University.

On not missing the future

Mark Scott, AO 2

From my office window in Ultimo, Sydney, I look out on a sky full of cranes, symbols of Ultimo’s building boom. Each day, the first Australian building designed by visionary American architect Frank Gehry currently under construction, seems a little higher. The Gehry building will be home to the University of Technology Business School. The UTS Faculty of Design is already right next door to us at the ABC. Some of our other neighbours are Google, the Powerhouse Museum, Fairfax media, various radio networks and Channel Ten. A little further across town are Sydney University, Fox Studios, the College of Fine Arts and myriad smaller organisations, a network of similar interests.

In a precinct dedicated to creativity and ideas, what are the opportunities that come from these businesses and institutions, with their cultural affinities and seamless connections to kindred spirits across the country, working in such proximity? And what value do they bring to the nation’s economy and our lifestyle? Stuart Cunningham has the answers.

Creative industries are Australia’s growth industries. Within the economy they now have the kind of prominence that agriculture, manufacturing and mining enjoyed in the past. Australian creative professionals outnumber those working in the mining sector by three to one. The agricultural and forestry sectors by two to one. Yet this flourishing creativity and innovation—while as vital to us as the education sector—is still largely both  underestimated and hidden. Stuart understands that better than most. These industries have been his life’s work. Yet at the moment, recognition of their achievement lags behind the reality of how extensive that achievement is.

We need to address that urgently, because they clearly have a lot to teach us. The ideas and innovation they generate have a social utility far beyond just these industries. What we learn can help us contend with a range of future challenges. The present pace of technological and social change demands new solutions and ideas, fresh thinking, alternatives. Serious study of the paths to innovation, both successes and failures, will help us understand potential disruptions and dividends more clearly. It will be people like Stuart, who have dedicated themselves to analysing innovation and creativity, who will ensure that success, which has so far remained hidden, will be granted its moment in the sun; to see that the story is finally told.

Public perception of the ABC has changed in recent years. Where once it was regarded as quite traditional, it’s now widely acknowledged as an innovative organisation. In reflecting on the ABC experience, Stuart goes back to where that perception began to shift, with the ABC’s first foray into the online world. “There has always been”, Stuart writes, “a subterranean concern that ABC Online innovations are outside the Charter”. I am delighted that with the explicit inclusion of digital media in the ABC Charter amendments that passed through Parliament in April this year, this is no longer a concern. And I’m sure our competitors and critics are busy right now searching for a new one.

However, even the ABC’s innovation has been “hidden” or is, at least, not well known. In 1932, when ABC Radio began, only 6% of Australians had radio licences. In 1956, with the birth of ABC TV, just 2% had televisions. The ABC was the first Australian electronic media organisation into the online space. In 1995, when ABC Online was officially launched, the Australian Bureau of Statistics didn’t even measure internet reach. Wherever the public was heading for their media, the ABC was determined to be there.

The ABC was also innovating in digital television, first out of the gate with the experimental channels ABC Kids and FlyTV—when only a tiny percentage of Australian homes had digital TV. We were also producing apps early, early into digital radio. And that pattern of innovation continues today with [radio and television projects and stations such as] iview, Triple-j Unearthed, ABC Open, our leadership in social media, The Opera House Project and plenty of other work we have in the pipeline.

Back in 1995, Brian Johns, who was appointed Managing Director of the ABC following his Chairmanship of the Broadband Services Expert Group, envisaged the world in which today’s ABC finds itself. With the One ABC model, he wanted to see the ABC organised around content genres, rather than platforms whose distinctions would be significantly blurred in a world of fast, ubiquitous broadband internet. He was ahead of his time. Media  organisations have learned more in the past ten years from the digital revolution than they did in fifty years from the analogue world. Many learned the hard way that it is the unmet challenge is the greatest threat, denial and delay the greatest risks. The relevance of these lessons is valuable to many other diverse businesses and institutions.

President John F. Kennedy said that “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” In a changing world, we at the ABC know we can’t afford to continue thinking of ourselves as a traditional broadcaster. By constantly redefining our habits of innovation, we will avoid that. I saw some compelling evidence of the scale of change that now confronts us at the recent South by SouthWest  Interactive Festival. It seemed to me, after this, that the ABC was faced with three fundamental questions.

Smart phone media consumption is expected to move from 60% to more than 90% and younger audiences are interacting with the phones hundreds of times a day in a hierarchy of activities—capturing, exploring, creating, and sharing—with phone calls at the bottom of the list. So how do we pivot the ABC towards mobile, while still engaging our traditional audiences?

The American management expert Gary Hamel suggests we ask ourselves ‘Are we changing as quickly as the world around us is changing?’ We need to ask are we innovating enough? Are there enough projects, pilots, beta launches, constant product development, failures—and are we systematically leveraging our learning—which isn’t easy to do in a devolved model like the ABC? Are we making our innovation investment in the right places?

For most of its existence, the ABC’s approach to its audience was based on ‘We create, you consume’ thinking. Today, digital technology grants both the ABC and our audiences new possibilities that have profoundly reshaped that legacy thinking. New partnerships with other television production houses, web producers and the audience are now available to us. And while search is still important, more and more content now reaches an audience through social media. Do we have our heads around the new sharing culture? Are we formatting our content so that it can reach the widest possible audience by making it right for mobile, right for being readily shared?

Answers to questions like these would provide Stuart Cunningham with plenty of material for a future book. But meanwhile, I am grateful to him for having stirred our thinking with the present one, Hidden Innovation, and wish him every success with it.

The very big picture—always in the frame.

Response from Professor Stuart Cunningham 3

I’m an arts and humanities scholar trying to draw our knowledge and approaches—and the sectors which draw on our knowledge and approaches—into the mainstream of research, innovation and R&D policy and funding.

For many of my arts and humanities colleagues, this looks like a rather large category mistake: innovation is a cliché, a mantra that is all about commercialisation of intellectual property generated from science and technology. Worse, for some of my colleagues, it is neo-liberalism insinuating itself into the cultural heartland, making culture answer to the prestige of science and technology. Well, innovation is indeed about the  commercialisation of intellectual property, and us lovers of the products of the creative industries should be very comfortable with it, given that we are surrounded by commercialised copyright right now (we are in a  bookstore, after all), and consume it all the time.

But innovation is about a lot more than that, especially these days as C.P. Snow’s two cultures at least show some signs of coming closer together, as people realise that the big problems that this country and the world faces need expertise from humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) as much as science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM).

Look what has happened to climate change if it is seen as solely a scientific issue, relying on the power of rationality and evidence to defeat fear, muck raking and path dependency. Or look at the first Murray-Darling Basin plan and the burning of the books. [In 2010, angry farmers in Griffith, New South Wales, burned copies of the Murray-Darling Basin draft water plan that would destroy their towns and to protest the Basin plan’s consultation and planning process.] This was a classic case of not taking the humans affected by policy with you as you seek to respond to the evidence and the need for change. Or thinking we can take advantage of the Asian century by just talking louder and slower to those unfortunates who don’t speak English…


Anyway folks, this book has got something for everyone. It’s got academic debate: why humanities needs to connect to innovation thinking, and how to do it, why the social sciences have it, but still need to push on. It’s got global policy trends that are seeing innovation policy begin to embrace especially design and digital content, and cultural policy is beginning to open out to the challenges of innovation, the application of new ideas. It canvasses the new business models springing up in digital media, transmedia and cross platform, where professionals are learning from social and amateur media, and amateurs are being afforded the opportunity to professionalise. It has a chapter on the innovation challenge for public service broadcasters, tracing the way in which, in some countries in Europe, public service broadcasters now have to prove, if they want to innovate particularly in digital services to their publics, that they are not ‘crowding out’ private-sector initiative.

It takes up the vexed issue of creative labour, and the exploitation and self-exploitation endemic in the sector, throwing into this passionate debate encouraging data about the strong growth in the creative economy in Australia. And there’s lots more … what’s a lousy 35 bucks for all this?


In a review of the previous book of mine, In the Vernacular, I got called the Baz Luhrmann of media and cultural studies 4. You know—the very big picture always in the frame, but showy, extravagant, melodramatic and overpromising. Remember Luhrmann’s film Australia? The huge epic historical romance between Aussie icons Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman that throws in every cliché about Australia and then the kitchen sink on top. It really got the critics’ lips curling and the reviews snarling, but it also happens to be the second-highest grossing Australian film of all time. Well, I loved Australia—the film. I’m also passionate about Australia—the country—getting its understanding of innovation and the creative sector right.

The Labor Government’s recently launched National Cultural Policy contains strong recognition of the complimentary roles of arts, creative industries and cultural heritage. Design thinking and design solutions as key inputs into the wider economy, and addressing social need, are beginning to be embedded in industry and innovation policy and practice. The New South Wales government unveiled in the same week as the National Cultural Policy a Creative Industries Action Plan, putting the creative industries along with the Digital Economy, Professional Services, Advance Manufacturing and the Visitor Economy as the foci for attention despite major fiscal constraint. There is a great story about the growth of the creative economy. Census 2011 tells us that 4.5% growth in creative services as against 2% overall workforce.

So it’s all happening.


Thanks once again to Mark Scott, who has done me a great honour of launching Hidden Innovation tonight, and to you all. Walt Whitman once said ‘great poets need great audiences’. I am certainly not a great poet, but you have been the perfect Whitmanesque audience—thanks for making this event happen tonight.

Revealing the Hidden

Review by Tracey Callinan


Stuart Cunningham (2013) Hidden Innovation: Policy, Industry and the Creative Sector

St Lucia Queensland: University of Queensland Press,

In the fifteen years that the term “creative industries” has gained traction in Australia and other parts of the world, Stuart Cunningham has been recognised as one of the leading thinkers and writers on the subject. Along with his colleagues at the Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation where he is Director, Cunningham has prodded academia and governments alike to extend their understanding of the links between human creativity and economic resources. Expanding on his previous arguments, in this book he examines how the sector is able to introduce new ways of working, arguing that this is often overlooked, or hidden, in the broader political and economic analyses and strategic industrial development agenda.

At the outset, Cunningham situates the creative industries as a key contributor to the innovation economies of developed countries. They contribute ideas, processes, products and, not least, talent, which can be repurposed within and outside the creative industries in ways that grow economies and drive productivity. This has been the mantra of creative industries academics and advocates such as Gibson et al (2002); Florida (2002); Hartley (2005); Beveridge (2006); Weisand et al (2005); Howkins (2001); Throsby (2010), etc. By positioning innovation as hidden, Cunningham adds to this, arguing that innovative ideas abstracted from collaboration and synergies have not been openly adopted between the arts and science or between arts practitioners themselves, and even less so by government policy makers. As a result, the potential for economic and social growth has been hidden or at least sporadic when it occurs across sectors. He writes that “innovation is not only the creation of new ideas but also involves the application of those ideas for realised or potential economic, social or public benefit”. This definition, while still situated within civic humanist paradigms, recognises the socioeconomic potential and/or contribution to society as artistic. It also challenges the altruistic assumption of art which “comes with fries”, and positions it as a serious economic driver.

For those familiar with Cunningham’s work, this argument comes as no surprise. But it is an important point, as he makes the case that policy support for innovation has tended to overlook the contribution of creative industries as a source of invention, with government support far more focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics as the main drivers of innovation. When discussing innovation, Cunningham is not only interested in the ideas associated with creativity but also in their application for “realised or potential economic, social or public benefit” (p. 4). He provides examples of this both from within the creative industries sector such as those found in public broadcasting in the UK and Australia, the innovation in design promoted through Finland’s research and education approaches, and those where creative practitioners work in other sectors such as the health sector.

While there is a sense that these examples only scratch the surface of how creative industries can successfully engender innovation, the book helpfully clarifies the many interrelated ideas involved in current creative industry models. A chapter on policy provides a comprehensive view of the landscape, drawing on many specific examples of government policy as well as the commentary that has accompanied these developments. The following chapter concentrates on public service media, a subject in which Cunningham demonstrates an in-depth knowledge with numerous examples of innovation ranging from BBC children’s television, through to innovations by Australia’s multicultural and multilingual Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the national public broadcaster, and the surprising example of health innovation through Embarrassing Bodies, the British, television program broadcast on Channel 4 since 2007. The succeeding chapters explore firstly creative labour and the difficulties associated with the precarious nature of creative industries employment, and secondly creative cities, examining where the debate has moved to after the years of influence of Richard Florida’s work. While these chapters offer fascinating detail and assist the reader in understanding the many different issues that present themselves in the creative industries sector, it is questionable as to how strongly Cunningham is able to make the link to innovation in these chapters. Completing his argument’s full circle, the book concludes by returning to the theme of policy, this time through the lens of praxis and research.

Considering the complex nature of the creative industries debate, with contested definitions both locally and globally, Cunningham identifies the extent to which a neo-liberal agenda for the creative industries sector is at odds with the arts agenda. While the book does not fully address all the issues arising from this disjuncture, in arguing for the creative industries to be recognised in innovation policy, it shows that the neo-liberal agenda is, in fact, undercut, going against the rationales for small government, deregulation and the operation of market forces. From this stance, the creative industries discussion opens up opportunities for a perspective of the relationship between economics and culture that is itself innovative.

Cunningham has always presented the creative industries as inseparable from the arts. The examples he mainly discusses, however, demonstrate that it is those parts of the creative industries associated with higher revenue streams such as the media and communications sector, that dominate policy discussion. His bias towards the this sector is understandable – Cunningham is, after all, Professor of Media and Communication – but a sector like music which makes up a sizeable proportion of creative industries income, is under-represented in his discussion. As one of the first sectors to have its market threatened by digital development, the music industry has long been forced to find innovative solutions. It would be good if it, and some of the other more traditional arts parts of the creative industries, had been used to provide examples of innovation in addition to the media and design fields.

Another limitation relates to the relatively narrow range of global views discussed, thereby failing to take into account the full range of definitions and understandings afforded by the various different creative industries models around the world today. While there are some examples and statistics from a variety of places, from Korea to Nigeria, those discussed in any depth are mostly drawn from Europe, particularly the UK (to which Cunningham’s Centre at QUT is strongly allied), or from Australia and New Zealand. North America is surprisingly absent from this book. More and deeper discussion of what is happening beyond Anglophone nations would reveal a much wider range of differing and competing knowledges, understandings and practices.

Perhaps there is not much that is genuinely new in this book. Even so, Cunningham’s approach manifests a willingness to move beyond the contested creative industries arguments of the past fifteen years, to point a way to a new maturity in how the creative industries are framed and aligned to other sectors and to political and policy debate. The combination of historic analysis, informed opinion and different approaches makes a valuable contribution to debate and makes a strong case for re-positioning creative industries within the broader economy.

About the reviewer

Tracey Callinan is the Executive Officer at Arts OutWest and the Regional Development Officer for the Central West region of New South Wales, based in Bathurst at Charles Sturt University. She is also researching creative industries in regional settings for a PhD with CSU. Her background includes working for Creative Partrnerships in England, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Future Music in Adelaide, Musica Viva in Schools, the Roland Corporation and as a musician, teacher and facilitator.


  2. Mark Scott, AO. Managing Director, Australian Broadcasting Corporation. His time at the ABC has been marked by extensive innovation including the creation of ABC3 digital TV channel for children, a 24 hour news channel, ABC News 24, a major expansion into digital and on-line technology and an expansion of quality drama.
  3. Stuart Cunningham is Professor of Media and Communications, Queensland University of Technology, and Director of the Australian Research Council ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. He was President of the Council of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences in Australia from September 2006 to October 2008.
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