Remarks of Sir Howard Stringer
Chairman of the Sony Corporation Board of Directors
Global Business Summit on Creative Content
July 31, 2012
Good morning ladies and gentlemen and thank you for the warm welcome. Thank you for filling the seats so splendidly.
It is right and proper that we are here today to celebrate the UK’s great contribution to global content creation, and not just because, according to government figures, it generates more than £30 billion for the British economy and sustains more than one and a half million jobs. But to quote yesterday’s Times, “Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening Ceremony was a magnificent triumph of ideas as well as a feast for the eye. It exemplified a creative, tolerant and cultured nation.”
So Britain’s creative content may now be even more revered around the world, not just for the output of famous British creative brands from, of course, the BBC to Penguin or from Aardman Animation to Pinewood. But because – for a small island –Britain’s creative impact has reverberated globally for centuries.
The historical impact of British creativity is hard to measure. But today, I will try to give it some perspective.
Students of English history will be familiar with the story of Josiah Wedgewood. And most of you have heard of Wedgewood china, or pottery.
Josiah Wedgewood is an excellent example of an Englishman who commercialised creativity for the benefit of himself and his family, to be sure, but also to the advantage of his community, this country and its global influence.
He also is a rare case of someone who was himself both the artist and the promoter of his art. In bridging that divide he made an industry of his talent, one that survives to this day, more than 200 years after his own demise, though the company lately is not enjoying the recession either.
But for generations, Wedgewood profited from the genius of its creator, who besides having the talent to invent a new kind of pottery and homeware, knew how to sell it and kept innovating. It is said he helped invent modern marketing, introducing bold ideas like direct mail, distribution, buy one, get one free and money-back guarantees. He also understood the value of celebrity endorsements, publicising his commissions for Queen Charlotte and Catherine the Great to inspire the general public to buy up his products in droves.
I couldn’t help but notice that Wedgewood’s innovative marketing techniques continue to this day; the extraordinary Stella McCartney, who is speaking at this event later, made a beautiful blue dress worn by the Duchess of Cambridge this month, and you can buy one yourself at Selfridges & Co.
Making those connections – between art and science, between the creative spark and the selling proposition – is the key to success in any age, but especially in this age of innovation and globalisation. When news and commerce travels, literally, at the speed of light, the commercialisation of creativity must not lag far behind.
Business leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs all need to be faster at understanding evolving cultural mores and how they affect customer and audience habits.
To imagine what might be “made in Great Britain” in the future, we can take inspiration from what made Britain great in the past.
For one thing, English innovation is not limited to the honorable Mr. Wedgewood, even though one curious fact I didn’t know. His eldest daughter became the mother of Charles Darwin, AKA the father of evolution.
The United Kingdom has been home to many great inventors and entrepreneurs. There’s Isaac Newton, of course. Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, a creator of the Internet. Stephen Hawking. The list of such UK geniuses is too long to recite; there must be something about our weather that keeps them inside thinking such great thoughts; though, of course, Newton did step outside long enough for the apple to fall on his head.
But to balance all that hardware, engineering, science, it helps to have more than a dash of artistry and poetry to add to the mixture of success. Here, too, Great Britain is second to none…from the Bard to the Brontes, Hobbes & Locke to Lennon & McCartney, Laura Ashley to Stella McCartney, and Chaplin & Hitchcock to Monty Python & Dame Judi Dench.
You’ve heard of all those names because to a greater or lesser extent a way was found to commercialise their creativity. Sony has played a small role in doing just that for more than a few English innovators. I’ll mention just two here today.
English author Ian Fleming created the legendary character of James Bond in a series of a dozen books he wrote, beginning in 1953.
As we all know, those books, more than 100 million of which were sold over the years, spawned the longest running and most successful franchise in the history of filmmaking. Sony Pictures was lucky to distribute the most recent and highest grossing movies of them all – Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace…to be joined later this year by Skyfall.
Michael G. Wilson, the genius behind so much of Bond’s success on the silver screen, will be here today to discuss this most excellent example of commercialising UK creativity. Maybe he will also reveal how he enlisted Her Majesty, the Queen, to promote the Olympic opening night and to become, briefly, a Bond girl.
The second great British export I want to briefly mention is Harry Potter, the creation of Britain’s extraordinary J.K. Rowling. Sony did not produce the Harry Potter movies. But we were able to team up with Ms. Rowling in the launch of her very creative and immersive website, Pottermore, which is helping expand the reach of the Potter universe like never before.
The creativity of Sony Computer Entertainment’s London Studios here in Soho has also created the Wonderbook – taking augmented reality in the shape – literally –of a book. It will launch this Autumn with new and original work from J.K. Rowling and the Book of Spells.
I’ll say just one more thing about Sony, I promise. I am proud to tell you that we have created jobs formore than 3,000 people in the UK. It’s the headquarters for our European operations, our international music, TV and video game production units and our Global Treasury office. In addition, we built Sony’s UK Technology Centre in South Wales 20 years ago and it continues to be a world class operation with highly skilled staff making the finest professional broadcast cameras and equipment.
OK, enough with my commercial. Besides, you’ll be hearing from some of my colleagues later.
So back to the business at hand – the business of nurturing British talent into global enterprises as well as attracting global talent and investment to this land.
I’d like to mention three more things that the United Kingdom can do to become a centre of gravity for the commercialisation of creativity.
One is the importance of encouraging a culture of risk-taking.
Taking risks, being willing to try and fail, is at the heart of an innovative culture. Silicon Valley would not exist without people who have the courage to change.A recent Wall Street Journal article captured the importance of what it called “pivoting,” noting that there is:
“a new breed of entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s who strategically ‘pivot’ – try out new ideas, shed them quickly if they don’t catch on, and move on to the next new thing.”
This is especially important now that we are in an era of disruptive technology. We all need to allow ourselves to be disrupted out of our complacency, true for young and old alike.
Companies today need to find ways to either develop disruptive technologies on their own, or recognise them in their embryonic stages when developed outside their walls and find a way to partner in that growth.
And that means taking risks. It must be encouraged in schools and universities. It must be encouraged by business leaders and politicians, investors and analysts - and by tax policies. After all, that’s one reason we’re all here.
Part of that encouragement involves not being too discouraged when risks don’t pay off. If someone tries to do something new and fresh and different, let’s not be too harsh on him or her if it doesn’t work out. Good faith efforts should not be sprinkled with bad blood when they don’t succeed.
And when a risk pays off and a small start-up really catches fire, let it be celebrated, not resented. I was struck by a recent news report in which a UK entrepreneur was quoted as saying that “anyone who succeeds here is considered lucky or just privileged.” The creators of fantastic new developments that spawn entire industries ought to enjoy the same kind of cultural status as our sports, film and music stars. We must remember that their genius yields jobs for our future.
A second subject I wanted to touch on briefly is the importance of protecting intellectual property. Creativity cannot be commercialised, at least not for the long term, without a healthy and effective system that incentivises and rewards innovation and originality, while protecting freedom of expression as well.
If people can easily steal the fruits of fertile minds, whether it’s the idea for a new medical device or music or movies or software or works of fashion or art, then what is there to encourage people to explore their talents and develop their careers in those fields? And in a globally mobile world, the talent will inevitably go where it is most appreciated, nurtured, protected and encouraged.
A pound lost to copyright infringement is a pound not available to develop the next generation of energy-efficient car batteries, discover a new musical artist or invest in a film.
Not surprisingly, studies have shown that intellectual property theft is a big and growing business, and billions have been diverted from a lawful to an illegal marketplace.
Since many consider England to be the birthplace of modern intellectual property law – for patents with the Statute of Monopolies in 1624 and for copyright with the Statute of Anne in 1710 – I hope that Great Britain will continue to take brave action to protect intellectual property in the future. I believe the various sides in this debate can come together to find common ground to advance the goals of innovation and freedom at the same time. It will encourage more home-grown creativity and, therefore, more jobs and prosperity for all.
The third and final point I’d like to make is to encourage Great Britain to keep promoting the development of technology and the engineers among you. We at Sony proudly support the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, which, inspired by the Prime Minister, is the million-pound global award to be made by the Queen next Spring to someone who is “responsible for a ground-breaking innovation in engineering that has been of global benefit to humanity.”
I applaud that effort, because engineering is fundamental to the advancement of this economy and society. We need new innovators. We cannot simply be a world of consumers and sellers of things to consumers. We need creators.
And engineering is all about creating. Creating not only products, but creating whole new businesses and industries – like Josiah Wedgewood did in one century, and Sir James Dyson in our own – and that means more jobs for people and new and better ways for people to live their lives.
Engineers are the poets of the practical world. They create beautiful and amazing things out of their minds, and their work inspires and influences us all.
As our population grows and the number and complexity of our challenges expands, we need more engineers to help us solve those challenges and allow us to be masters of our fate, not victims of our misfortunes.
So let us not simply marvel at the practical value of engineering; let us appreciate its beauty and art and meaning to society. And let Great Britain continue fostering the work of engineers, who along with the artists and actors and writers and philosophers can help create the wondrous things that will define our future.
At the same time, I cannot hear the words “commercialisation” and “creativity” in the same sentence without remembering something that the legendary American broadcaster, Edward R. Murrow once said.
He asked his boss, William Paley, the founder of the CBS television network, how much profit CBS was making. Bill Paley told him the amount. “Bill”, said Murrow in response, “that’s enough.”
Today it’s never enough. Murrow, of course, was worried that the urge to maximize profits would be likely to minimize quality. When I was a documentary producer at CBS in the late 1960’s the network aired at least twenty prime time documentaries a year. Today, you can count them on one finger. Creativity takes many forms but each form has to be nurtured.
I cannot imagine Britain without its extraordinary wealth of artistic talent. The BBC as well as the West End Stage have done more to protect this legacy than most other institutions I can think of. Protect them because they are irreplaceable. I know because the world - as well as Britain - gets the benefit.
The recent Sony blockbuster, The Amazing Spiderman, reveled in the talents of a British actor, Andrew Garfield, playing the hero, and another British actor, Rhys Ifans, playing the villain. Batman, the Dark Knight Rises has another Brit, Christian Bale, playing the hero and yet another Brit, Sir Michael Caine, playing, what else, his personal batman.
Talking of Sir Michael: a while ago I once asked a Hollywood studio chief why Sir Michael plays so many parts. He might have said, “Because he can!”
Instead he observed that Sir Michael is one of a handful of actors who actually picks up a restaurant check, shows up on time and is always totally prepared. Creativity may be a gift, but it must not be taken for granted; talent has to be sheltered and, above all, treasured.
So, yes, take risks! But protect the fruits of intellectual labours.Honourboth our poets and the poets of the practical world.
In these ways, the greatness of Britain can continue to shine well into this new century, as it has so brightly shone upon the several centuries that came before.
We’ve always been good at creating and exporting ideas and innovations across many disciplines. And we’ve also been good at creating leaders in business, like Sir James Dyson, Sir Richard Branson and Sir Jonathan Ive, whose work has impacted the lives of many people around the world.
For hundreds of years, Britain has been an incubator of creative talent, from the written word to the stage, and in the past 100 years from popular music to movies, and from technical design to multi-platform television.
We need to preserve and build on that talent for the next century and beyond. We are entering an era of immense technical change, where devices and network systems will connect audiences in ways never imagined before. But those audiences will still demand great content, and they will look to creative nations to provide it. Britain can be among the leaders of this next content market, with the right education, the right policies and the right incentives to build on its past achievements.
As a proud son of Wales, as a journalist of the American school, and as a businessman familiar with Asia, I predict with confidence that the world expects Britain to play its role. I’m sure that’s why you’re here – to help make that promise a reality.