Emerging from the Crisis with Creativity

Developing New Prospects for the Economy

Dr. Olaf Meier & Lena Papasabbas,
Zukunftsinstitut Frankfurt

The climate crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis pose unprecedented challenges to both businesses and society at large. Creativity is indispensable if we want to overcome them; at the same time, crises unleash creative forces that are otherwise bound up in set structures. Locations with a strong creative economy therefore reap enormous benefits in times of crisis: not only are they better positioned to cope with crises large and small, but they also have more efficient ways of drawing new potential from them. After all, creativity is an indispensable factor when it comes to resilience and adaptability. Yet, it is not only crises that promote and require creativity – so do the permanent societal changes.


Megatrends – the Deep Currents of Social Change

Being able to deal with crises means being able to deal with change. In trend research and futurology, changes and their dynamics are under constant scrutiny, even though not every change is predictable, as COVID-19 impressively proved. Some changes come suddenly. Most major change processes, however, can be easily observed because they unfold slowly and continuously. These large deep currents of change affect every part of the economy and society. The Zukunftsinstitut has identified the following twelve important megatrends:

  • Individualisation
  • Urbanisation
  • Gender Shift
  • Knowledge Culture
  • Neo-ecology
  • Connectivity
  • Safety and Security
  • New Work
  • Globalisation
  • Mobility
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Silver Society

Megatrends usually unfold over decades. Even if they act in the background for a long time, they can be the foundations for comparatively rapid breakthroughs on the markets but also for disruptions. However, their developments themselves can be influenced by sudden changes in conditions, such as the COVID-19 pandemic did; they can accelerate, slow down or change their character. Megatrends, in the long term, reshape entire societies and not infrequently force entire industries to rethink their structures and business models. That is why the work with megatrends is an indispensable tool for politics, management and strategic planning.


Megatrends and the Creative Industries

All megatrends affect the urban creative industries. In general, however, and considering the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the six outlined below are of particular interest to them.


Border closures, mobility restrictions and general uncertainty during the crisis have meant that the Local has regained a great amount of importance. However, not as an antipole to globalisation – but as a part of it. This development is the trend toward glocalisation: a continued increase in internationalisation and global interdependence on the one hand – and the revival of the local as well as the creation of regional cycles on the other.

During the crisis, people increasingly bought products from local sources because they wanted to be close to their producers – or because goods from other regions of the world were simply unavailable. Companies switched their supply chains to regional suppliers or their own production of needed components because the global supply chain was at a standstill. This does not make global trade relations irrelevant, but it reduces the senseless excesses of globalised markets, which then creates new, hybrid structures for more resilient businesses. This means that cities, regions and companies must question their own global dependencies and develop and promote “glocal” structures. At the same time, global solidarity is growing – worldwide movements such as Fridays for Future, #Metoo or Black Lives Matter are mobilising especially young people. This young generation brings a new self-image of cosmopolitanism, sustainability and post-materialism. They are the pioneers of change, the creative elites – they are shaping the future. 

Cities should see themselves as global cities and develop even stronger networks in the future to attract and retain them. They can avoid the danger of uniformity by creating lively links to local history, culture and economy as well as to the residents and nature in the vicinity. This way they can become authentic Glocal Cities

Best Practice: UNESCO Creative Cities Network



The quality of urban life stands and falls with its cultural attractions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this was largely non-existent, and the advantages of urban life were reversed. The disadvantages, on the other hand – little private space along with high levels of air, noise and light pollution – became more present than ever before. The crisis has sparked a new discussion of values about what constitutes a liveable city and what is needed to make it so. Progressive metropolises such as Paris, Barcelona or Portland in Oregon are focusing on the idea of hyperlocality. Its core idea is that a city’s inhabitants can find all their everyday needs within walking distance of their own home. This minimises congestion and pollution, while also improving the quality of life. For this, a transformation of the city, space and mobility is required, which presupposes new political priorities on a local level.

Finally, cities must be thought together with their surrounding regions to a much greater extent in the future. A key strategy for better connecting the regions with each other is the investment in digital infrastructures. Where it once was dismissed as being backward, the country is now gaining in power. The pandemic has intensified the yearning for rural areas, where the world seems to be still intact even in a state of emergency: rural regions offer more space, more nature and lower health risks. Urban development specialists and resident companies will have to do much more in the years to come to strengthen their attractiveness as a location. After all, they are increasingly competing not only with other progressive cities but also, more and more frequently, with rural regions. Cities must therefore enable the new instead of merely manage old structures. 

Best Practice: Torino City Love, Turin



Environmental awareness has gone from being an individual lifestyle to a social movement. As a key element of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations in 2016, ecological sustainability is now a strong driver of global and local developments and initiatives. Neo-ecology as a megatrend is not only causing a realignment of values in the global society, everyday culture and politics, it is also – especially for a generation that has grown up in times of interconnectedness, prosperity and globalisation – made sustainability a central part of life. This includes a turning away from ideologies, political rhetoric and status struggles.

This young generation stands for a new pragmatism, for a networked thinking and a new seriousness – all of which are fuelled by the knowledge that change is possible: they have experienced how their concern to stop climate change became a global movement within weeks and how very quickly politicians can suddenly shut down the economy during a pandemic. The representatives of this generation are crisis-tested and will transform the economy in the decades to come. Not only are they taking critical consumption to a new level, as employees, but they are also no longer willing to spend themselves for material purposes. As a result, they are turning the logic of the meritocracy on its head and the days of ‘higher, faster and further’ are coming to an end.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that just a ‘keeping it up’ is no longer an option. The solution to the climate crisis is as much a societal task as the solution of the COVID-19 crisis was – we can only succeed when all areas of society realign themselves towards a progressive post-growth paradigm. Thus, politicians face the task to expedite this change through appropriate regulations and incentives.

Best Practice: Culture and Climate Change Handbook for City Leaders


Knowledge Culture

Never has the global education level been this high. Particularly in connection with the megatrend of connectivity, our knowledge of the world and the way we deal with information are changing. The COVID-19 crisis has finally digitised education, driven cooperative and decentralised structures for a generation of knowledge, and promoted innovative thinking. In fact, it has made real what many have always wished for: knowledge accessible for all.

Knowledge is increasingly being turned into a common good and is losing its elitist quality. Whether teaching, research, development, innovation or production, established hierarchies are being challenged in the decentralised knowledge culture, and the isolation of research and innovation is being breached. Open knowledge is increasing, it is shared in the network, new knowledge is generated jointly and independently of education and position. Clearly, the COVID-19 crisis called to mind that, in complex systems, problems can no longer be tackled alone. Applied and interdisciplinary knowledge networks are emerging outside established institutions.

Regarding teaching and learning, the virus acted as a catalyst for already existing online services. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), digital courses at distance learning universities or adult education centres as well as language learning apps gained in popularity. At schools, learning apps that make content available free of charge and enable uncomplicated assignment of tasks, or messenger apps that simplify communication between parents and teachers, were increasingly integrated into everyday teaching – because they also make many aspects of classroom teaching easier. The same applies to virtual conferences, which have found their way into schools and universities in the wake of the crisis.

Best Practice: Hackathon #WirVersusVirus


New Work

The era of the creative economy has long since dawned – and it is time to say goodbye to the rational performance society. New Work focuses on the development of everyone’s potential, and the future will be all about a successful work-life balance. The COVID-19 crisis is proving to be a real trend accelerator, making our work environment more agile, flexible and digital.

In a world of connectivity and highly individualised lifestyles, it will not only be possible but necessary to dissolve old work concepts with adamant attendance time at fixed workplaces. Remote work and working from home will continue to be essential components of most corporate cultures after COVID-19 has been tackled. Work will become more ‘mobile,’ but office space will once again become more important as a place for interpersonal encounters; business trips will become rarer but also more important. The crisis heralds the end of ‘business as usual’ – there will no longer be a return to rigid work structures.

Best Practice: Artspace, Toronto



Digital communication technologies transform sociocultural codes and give rise to new lifestyles and behaviour patterns. This drastic development was further intensified when, during the COVID-19 crisis, face-to-face encounters were more often substituted with virtual meetings.

For many companies and cultural institutions, digitisation has become a vital success factor. They had to reinvent themselves, re-network, develop new services. During the crisis, the healing power of shared digital content was also discovered – for example, through funny home videos about everyday life in the lockdown or Corona infotainment via social media platforms such as TikTok. This created a sense of global connectivity as we were all in the same boat, sharing similar concerns and problems during the lockdown.

Yet, digitisation also has its limits: social distancing cannot be fully compensated for by social networks, just as virtual meetings or lectures are exhausting in the long run, webinars cannot replace real events, and streamed cultural performances and content lack the shared experience that often creates an event’s certain magic. Thus, at the same time, a new need for genuine encounter and resonance has emerged, and ‘real’ public spaces are experiencing a new sense of appreciation. At the same time, it will not be forgotten how much can also be done digitally, often even more efficiently – the future therefore belongs to hybrid formats and concepts.

Best Practice: Frankfurt Book Fair – Special Edition 2020


There Is No Future Without Creativity and the Creative Industries

Issues such as climate change, neo-nationalism, and the COVID-19 crisis are affecting societies significantly today and they highlight the need for a renegotiation of political, economic and environmental issues. In this time of instability and uncertainty, the primal function of creativity becomes visible again – and more relevant than ever. New social utopias are emerging where established systems reach their limits or even fail entirely and existing rules are suspended – with creative ideas about how society could be different. And they do so on a small scale, from within society. Society is the ideal breeding ground for creative ideas that are often hastily discarded by politics and economy.

If we consider creativity again as a cultural technique of human evolution, then it has the potential to drive positive visions of the future of human coexistence. Where creativity is reduced to its mere possible economising, it dies out in the long run. Where creativity and thus also creative industries can develop freely and where eyes and ears are open for a ‘How could it go on?’, (urban) society will continue to evolve: problems will be solved productively, adaptations will take place – with a result that we can guess at, but which is, for now, completely uncertain. This might be a factor of reservation for the economy but, at the same time, also its opportunity for a productive change.