Global Leadership Forum

Social Capital and Creativity

Harriet Mayor Fulbright

September 15, 2015

The 2004 Global Leadership Forum, held in Istanbul, Turkey, June 24-27, focused on four major themes: (I) Humane Governance: Institutional, 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:

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 keynote address:

Social Capital and Creativity in the International Arena
Istanbul, Turkey
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 September 11.

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 growing.

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.

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