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 A Shift Paper for the Creative Economy

Over the last quarter century, there have been a number of overlapping descriptors of the social, economic and technological paradigms in which we live. It is largely accepted that what was known as the Industrial Economy is no longer dominant, as the Knowledge Economy and Network Economy are now better descriptors of what shapes the marketplace. The Creative Economy is the name we give to what is emerging from the combination of the Knowledge and Network Economies.

This Shift Paper is written as a means to create a dialogue around assumptions and ways of working in order to increase fitness for the kinds of situations, decisions and responsibilities that a Creative Economy imposes on all of us. The phrases below are not to be taken in isolation as single issues but as a whole for exploring, designing and implimenting patterns that are well suited to a Creative Economy.

It was originally composed in preparation for the WorkSpace at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, where it was presented as a poster. We've tweaked it and blogged about it a few times since then, but it basically remains as it was written then. 

For a more in-depth account of the paradigm shift we see taking place, take a look at our 2009 paper, From Hierarchy to Panarchy: The unfolding of a global paradigm shift.

Gail & Todd
December 2005
June 2013

Fading paradigm
(shift from)

Emerging paradigm
(shift to)

Standards, rules and regulations are imposed
at the start of a process, often becoming static.

Patterns, principles, and relationships create standards that evolve and shift with new context.

Top down; decisions made in exclusivity and
chosen from within a few possibilities.

Ideas grow from bottom up and are designed with inclusivity of all involved in their development and use.

Conforming; drive to get everyone on the same page.

Disruptive; value derived from the differences of perspective, experience, intelligence.

Design by experts.

Experts in collaboration with others from many vantage points.

Repeatable, mechanistic processes.

Parts recombined and reassembled to create entirely new and novel processes.

Design and decision making isolated by function.

Answers emerge from within shared context and collaborative engagement.

Tightly controlled networks and supply chains.

Creating and growing communities and webs of relationships.

Closed systems.

Open systems.

Rational, logical, analytical.

Relational, emotional, intuitive; engaging cognitive  diversity and multiple intelligences.


Organic, biomimetic.


Non-linear, iterative.

Single solution based; finding “the answer".

Multi-solution based, finding fitness.

We know what we’re looking for from the start

Search images guide and shape emergent solutions.

Understanding comes first.

Rigorous and open-ended; learn by doing and learning through multiple explorations.


Novelty, willingness to start from scratch; employing a beginner’s mind.

Short term or long term.

Short and long term in symbiotic relationship with each other.

Realistic, grounded in assumptions of what is possible.

Hopeful, playful and imaginative; aspires to expand and create possibilities.