Connecting Creative Potential

Johannes Jansson/
New Nordic Food has now been established as a way of thinking through out the Nordic Countries. The movement has during the past years been fuelling the development of more sustainable, healthy ways to produce and consume food.

Kirsten Bertelsen & Elisabet Skylare

Within the programme of New Nordic Food II (NNF), a project was initiated to look at food in relation to the creative industries. How can players within the food industry reach out and collaborate with other professions. This essay is an overview of the research on collaboration and some of the reasons why this is an important new development.

Food for thought

Young people, who are born into the digital age, are growing up with an unlimited and expanding access to information and entertainment. They are used to handling a high degree of complexity and they will probably, as cultural consumers, show us an openness towards new cultural products which we have never seen before. Their expectations will be very different from previous generations because their capacity to consume high amounts of multifaceted information is very high; a fast moving, hard to satisfy generation. They are looking out for something more challenging and ambiguous than the classical restaurant. They are in search of the unexpected, never seen before but they love traditional stuff with a twist; a reflexive playfulness, a critical distance to traditions. The post Internet generation does not put the same faith in categories as their parents do. They are eager to exceed and mix the established knowledge.

The last years we have seen the first chefs in collaboration with designers challenging the classical concept of the restaurant and pushed our assumptions of the dinner. And this is just the beginning. We will in few years be challenged by new ways of experiencing the ways we eat. We will see many more restaurants reflecting upon what it means to be a restaurant, the relationship with the customer and they way the restaurant operates in its local environment. They create new language and move away from expressions like bookings, servings, chefs, waiters. They see themselves as translators. They want to be relevant to the people who are visiting. Our basic assumptions and the old lingo will be renewed by these new creative players. They want to create a new language around food and eating.

We have therefore within the area of Food and Creative Industries dedicated some time and effort to explore food as a creative tool to investigate what would come up if we imagined it as being an art form equal to architecture, music and fine arts. We have explored how food can engage with questions such as the shared, the sense of belonging, the shared moment for example between the audience and the band. How can food and collaborate create value made for the future.

Cutting edge or cutting the carrot?

Within this field we see chefs who possess other skills than the ones who win the Bocuse d’Or or get the 3 stars in the Guide de Michelin. In some areas of the food industry, you can see the shift of a paradigm. Chefs and designers are using food as an engine to fuel political, ethical and social questions. They are as interested in life as in food. The fact that they can just cook give them an opportunity to critically engage with the way we live, eat and consume - and bring their skills and thinking into play in new context.

An example of food in a new context is the design of the Nordic Sound Bite for Ja Ja Ja Festival in London: The sharing of a sound bite during a concert makes a large gathering of individuals transform into a community. When every one enjoys a peculiar intriguing food experience at the same time, it evokes an awareness of the social and strengthens the sense of belonging: a sense of being part of something larger than yourself.

Food and music is here co-designed, and food plays a much more artistic role than it usually takes. In this context food design can perform with a strength that makes people aware of the very moment, strengthening the existential experience of being and being together. The knowledge of how food design can influence the social behaviour can be a component of knowledge in the work of improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness.

By the way these new players conceptualize food, they are able to bring awareness to questions outside of the food industry. They create agenda setting concepts, dealing with much more than food, produce and recipes. Over the last couple of years, we have encouraged the creative players in the Nordic countries to become agenda setting in the global economy to engage with the market and to develop new business models and platforms inspired by the other industries such as film and music.

Melting pots

In order for this to happen, the creative professionals from the different fields need to be able to access each other more easily. We need to create a more transparent infrastructure between the creative industries and we need to enable small businesses to develop the skills needed to collaborate beyond their own industries.

We need to make the barriers between the industries more permeable and create cross-over solutions matching the contemporary society with all its complexity. Therefore we have started creating an infrastructure and a learning environment where food designers and players in other creative industries could meet. These meeting places, which we called hubs, are interdisciplinary collaborations enabling people across different industries to meet up and create solutions while they develop a shared practice, a shared set of skills and a shared approach to problem solving. The hub in itself is an empty framework containing a structure, a set of tools and some focus areas. The focus areas are decided in a dialogue between the participants and the organizer.

Here is a short outline of the codes of conduct to make meetings across professions become productive:

  • Spend time on the presentation so that everybody knows what each other’s skills are. To gain an insight in the practices, experiences of others may not seem relevant right at the moment we introduced them to each other but during the following years the first meeting created an extended amount of collaborations across the Nordic countries. It does not need strategic goals and visions – that just limits creativity.
  • Ideas, we could not have foreseen, emerged in conversations. Give people time to talk without any agenda. They are curious and driven and they will automatically inspire each other.
  • A critical investigation of how planning and structure affected the productivity led us to coin the term ‘managing serendiputy’ as the way to orchestrate creativity in a way that makes it productive. Serendiputy means making discoveries by accidents. It actually means a ‘pleasant surprise’. Obviously pleasant surprises do not happen if the process is over controlled and the thinking is too linear. The hubs need to be organized and run in a way that make them productive at the same time as allowing the unexpected to find way into the world. If the managing is too controlled, creativity is killed. If it is too loose, the group looses its energy and progression.

Hosting and orchestrating

There are an endless number of sharp collaborators working within the creative industries in the Nordic countries. We have started out with a small number of them and they are now reaching out for new players creating visionary arenas, paving the way for food to be seen as more than food.

The challenge in the Nordic countries compared to a regional network is that your new creative collaborator is not right around the corner. These people are busy; their schedule is tight so if they are not certain to gain either new business or new inspiration you will not be able to make them attend. And you have only got one shot. If you fail to engage them at the first meeting, you have lost your chance!

To set up these collaborations therefore takes some knowledge about their world. You have to know what motivates the people you invite. Don’t think that your agenda is interesting to them, just because it is interesting to you. Spend some time researching what your dream team are dreaming of and include that in your planning. Your research should focus on two aspects: Content and form. That means both the way meetings can take place, how much time and resources they are willing to spend, which other professionals they would like to meet and what they would like to explore.

To turn a network into a productive team and not just a gathering of a bunch of individuals takes good process skills. Therefore the role of the host and the orchestrating of the meetings are important aspects to consider. You have to be curious, open and provocative. You have to keep a critical distance to the convincing and seductive descriptions of the world, which is presented to you. These people want to be challenged and it is your responsibility to push them. You have to know how to create intelligent and important debates allowing the participants to discover new things about themselves and the way they run their business. You have to know how to navigate intense debates and create capturing discussions.

Furthermore, the people involved in this development, need to know what is going on in the creative industries in the Nordic countries. Ideally, the creative industries would in the future establish a connector role who was constantly up to date with who and where someone is doing something on the edge and who kept track on up and coming creative’s who are interested in cross collaboration and problem solving. If the Nordic countries had a Connector of Creative Potential (CCP) who was responsible for bringing people together in structured collaboration, chances are that we would see a much more interesting and differentiated cultural landscape emerging in between the existing classical categories (music, architecture, art, design, film). They would create new solutions and bring new understandings.

These collaborations can become very important paving ways for new ways of looking at and dealing with the challenges we face in the global economy.

In the autumn of 2014, the Nordic Council of Ministers invited a group of leading players from across the Nordic Region to discuss their visions for the future of Nordic food. This essay formed part of this initiative #Nordicfood2024