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Creativity and innovation

The survey found that, while the world's young people have a broadly positive view of the UK, they are more likely to respect our country for its reliability, orderliness and stability than to be excited by it as an exemplar of modernity and innovation. This is the view given in direct answer to a question about modernity and tradition¹ and is supported by answers given to other questions about the UK's reputation for creativity in the areas of science, engineering and technology (SET) and the arts.

The UK is rated well for innovation in SET, but behind the USA, Japan and Germany. What is holding our reputation back is not so much the quality of our research, but our perceived lack of interest in translating it into commercial applications. Cloning is a case in point. It's a very visible British achievement, tremendous science, but it also seems rather removed from everyday life. What do you do with a cloned sheep? The way forward for UK SET appears to be showing how the excellence of our fundamental research converts into everyday uses and means better products and a higher quality of life for the world's young people.

The UK scores less well for creativity and innovation in the arts. The data show that young people essentially conceive 'the arts' as popular music and film. (For instance, Elton John and Hugh Grant topped the list of spontaneous mentions of UK contemporary artists in 1999.) They are less aware of the 'high' arts and, in forming an opinion about them, it appears that they rely on what else they think they know about the UK - that it is a cautious, conservative and traditional country - and assume that its arts must be traditional too. Some, especially in Europe, show an awareness of how artistically creative and innovative the UK can be, but the image of the UK as traditional and conservative is so strong that they tend to dismiss these flashes of innovation as departures from the norm rather than the norm itself.

The way forward is clearly to show that the UK has a culture of creativity and innovation that co-exists and interacts with the heritage of a rich history, but this is a sophisticated image and one where each aspect has the potential to undermine the other.

The message about creative UK is therefore,

The general image of the UK around the world is reliable but dull and this image is often quite deeply rooted. T o contradict it, we need to identify what young people already know or what they already want and work with that. Shocking them into something they 'ought' to know or want will not work. Then we need to state the message and restate it consistently, and make sure that every other message that we are giving out supports it.

¹ In 18 countries the majority view is that UK society is traditional; in the other 12 it is seen as modern. The first group includes all the high incomes countries we surveyed apart from Singapore, while the 'modern' group is a mix of middle and low income countries.

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