The National Creativity Network (NCN): Unleashing Imagination,

Creativity and Innovation to Positively Transform

Education, Commerce, Culture and Government


May 2015

The North American continent has been a venue over thousands of years for human beings, individually and collectively, to unleash their imagination and foster a culture of creativity, invention, and innovation that has transformed local areas, regions, states and provinces, nations, and the world. The story begins with the fertile imaginations of peoples and tribes (Native Americans or First Nations) throughout the continent who created languages, villages, cities, agriculture, systems of barter and trade, alliances, religions, breathtaking works of architecture and art, evocative musical forms, instruments and other technological artifacts, and compelling stories of life and culture for rising generations. Peoples from Europe began to arrive thousands of years later, first in a trickle, then a stream, and finally a river of diversity. The steady influx of further immigrants from East, West, and South over the past few centuries further increased this diversity and infused the creative matrix of North America with a dynamism that has profoundly altered the landscape, human societies, and made this continent a vast mosaic of peoples, ideas, cultures, and socioeconomic systems influencing the entire globe.

While many important and valuable changes to human life and societies have happened as a result of the impact of imagination, creativity, invention, and innovation within North America and elsewhere, not all changes have been positive. One only has to think of the impact of European populations on Native American peoples over the past five centuries. Some changes initially thought to be positive have turned out in the longer run of history to be fraught with difficulties and new challenges. It is our belief that a new wave of imagination can, and indeed must, foster a culture of creativity and innovation that will continue to transform institutions, cultures, and societies in North America in this new century, equaling or exceeding the changes occurring among prior generations. Civic, corporate, educational, and cultural institutions can benefit from rejuvenation at local, regional, and national levels. Education, culture, commerce, and government are four major spheres of human activity where important transformations must occur to adequately prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the future. The National Creativity Network or NCN has been formed to advance this transformational process across the continent of North America working with regional coalitions and national organizations.

The formation of the NCN was informed by already existing efforts in other nations going back a decade or more (mostly in Europe), the work of UNESCO and UNCTAD around creative cities and creative industries respectively, and the international Districts of Creativity Network (DC-Network) which formed in Europe and has grown to comprise 13 creative districts (regions) around the world, including Creative Oklahoma in the USA. These movements show no signs of abating and the NCN intends to formally link to these movements while focusing on the particular needs of the North American continent.

On What Do We Agree?


A vibrant and flourishing North America where imagination, creativity, and innovation are routinely valued, skillfully applied, and continuously expanded.


The National Creativity Network engages, connects, informs, promotes, and counsels cross-sector stakeholders who skillfully use imagination, creativity and innovation to foster vibrant and flourishing individuals, institutions and communities across North America.


  • Imagination is the bedrock of human creativity and remains an underdeveloped and under-utilized resource.
  • Creativity is present in every human being and can be further nurtured and developed.
  • Innovation entrepreneurially figures out how to make creative ideas function well in the real world at a scale that matters.
  • A desirable future for institutions, communities, and societies depends upon continuously finding imaginative, creative, and innovative solutions to profound and complex challenges.
  • Supportive environments are essential to the unleashing of imagination, expression of creativity, and realization of innovation.


  • Spark local, regional, state and provincial, and national movements to create environments—in homes, schools, workplaces, communities and public offices—where every person is inspired to grow creatively.
  • Develop grassroots networks of organizations and regions to facilitate the exchange of ideas, models and “best questions” as well as providing support and processes for those who want to take part.
  • Serve as a national and international thought leader and influential policy voice for matters related to imagination, creativity, and innovation.
  • Seek new national and global partners whom we can engage, connect, understand, and promote.
  • Provide high quality, synthesized, and timely information across geographies, sectors, problems, activities, and needs.
  • Facilitate cross-sectoral (education, commerce, culture, and government) and cross-regional work that tackles difficult and perennial obstacles to progress in North America.

We accept the following working definitions for our work, adapted with permission from the book imagination first: Unlocking the Power of Possibility by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon (Jossey-Bass, 2009):

Imagination is the capacity to conceive of what is not yet present or manifest.

Creativity is imagination applied (“imagination at work”) to do or make something that flows from the prior capacity to conceive of the new.

Innovation consists of further creative actions that advance the form, depth, reach, and richness of that which has been brought into being.

We believe that imagination is a fundamental primer for human creativity and an essential human and societal resource that is both underdeveloped and underutilized in the present age. The complexities of modern life frequently lead to paralysis at the individual level driven in part by a belief that “I am not an imaginative person” or perhaps worse, “my imaginative ideas cannot make any real difference in the world.” We believe that imagination, creativity, and innovation — while partially innate and present in virtually all human beings – can be taught, encouraged, cultivated, and improved over time. Thus we adopt an “I-C-I” framework for our work. While one of the best ways to improve these elements within one’s life is simply to engage in these practices on a regular basis, there are various techniques, tools, guidance, and approaches that can accelerate potential, progress, and impact and further build what David and Tom Kelley call “creative confidence.” The expression of imagination, creativity, and innovation is not limited to any one area of life, such as the arts or other so-called “creative” fields, but can be found in all areas of human endeavor spanning the sciences, humanities, social and behavioral sciences, architecture and the arts, law and political science, religion and theology, engineering, technology, interdisciplinary studies, and so forth.

What Do We Imagine?

We envision a vital and viral network of creative localities, regions, and provinces/states across North America where transformations are already occurring. These are places where people and organizations have started to come together around the themes of imagination, creativity and innovation to make a positive difference in education, culture, commerce and/or government within their spheres of influence. Such work is challenging, frustrating, demanding, invigorating, and rewarding – sometimes all at the same time. We believe that such efforts can learn and share with other like-minded nodes or “hot spots” across the continent and that through such networking efforts the orientations, plans, actions, and effects of all network participants can be strengthened and better sustained. We know that such transformations are long-term processes and will have many facets, projects, and centers of creative and imaginative work. While we all must take actions in the present, we must also embrace a long-term view about the core importance and potentials of our respective and collective work.

What Have We Done to Date?

The National Creativity Network was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the summer of 2010 and formally launched in November at the 2010 Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma City. The NCN owes its origin to the work of Creative Oklahoma who drew upon a group of national thought leaders as advisors in their statewide creativity efforts; many of these advisors along with Susan McCalmont and Jean Hendrickson of Creative Oklahoma became founding members of the Board of the NCN. The NCN has accomplished a variety of tasks since its inception. These accomplishments include:

  • Establishing a board of directors drawn from various professions, organizations, and geographic locations with Sir Ken Robinson as Honorary Chair and creating a small headquarters with a full-time Executive Director coming on board in 2013.


  • Establishing and maintaining a website (www.nationalcreativitynetwork.org) and weekly posts and social media transmission of news (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, email) about imagination, creativity, and innovation efforts across North America and the globe.


  • Establishing relationships with regional coalitions in twelve (12) US states, four (4) Canadian provinces, and with several tribal nations.


  • Organizing and convening panels, discussions, and presentations in forums across North America as well as occasional webinars archived on the NCN website.


  • Assuming responsibility for the annual USA Creative Business Cup whose winner annually competes for the Global Creative Business Cup in Copenhagen, Denmark as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week; a contest that has grown to embrace over 50 nations.


  • Establishing the Sir Ken Robinson Award for Leadership in Creativity and Innovation with the inaugural award bestowed in November 2013 by Sir Ken Robinson upon Susan McCalmont, President of Creative Oklahoma.


  • Creating and maintaining a standing working group of the NCN called the Creative Economy Coalition (CEC) comprised of individuals from organizations actively seeking to define, measure, and enhance creative industries and creative economies across North America; the CEC holds monthly conference calls and prepared and released through the NCN website a 141-page initial report on America’s Creative Economy in August 2013. The CEC held its first annual summit in Washington, DC in the fall of 2014 hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Washington DC Government’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities and will hold its second annual CEC Summit in Washington, DC in October 2015. Further details about the CEC and its work can be found on the CEC Facebook page (a CEC website is under development).


  • Conceiving and co-founding Global Creativity United (GCU) which the Executive Director of the NCN co-chairs. GCU is an international alliance of nine founding organizations with a combined presence in over 150 nations on six continents. It seeks to advance positive creativity in all of its varied manifestations in addition to growing creative industries and creative economies. Following a successful inaugural World Summit on Creative Industries organized by the local hosts as part of the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Congress, the GCU is now the co-organizer for a 2nd World Summit on Creative Industries to be held as part of a weeklong series of creativity events in Washington, DC in 2016.


  • Creating the National Creativity Network Press in late 2014 with its own registered ISBN numbers.

Will You Join Us?

The creation, support, and encouragement of a National Creativity Network require an unprecedented level of collaboration among groups of like-minded and active organizations and individuals across this continent. We are especially desirous of linking with formal networks of people and multiple organizations that cross government, culture, commerce, and education sectors within specific location(s) that are already active in transforming their respective spheres of influence. We also welcome national and international organizations located in Canada, Mexico, and the United States who will stand with us in endorsing and promoting imagination, creativity, and innovation throughout their respective organizations and supporting in appropriate ways the work of coalitions in communities across North America.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts about this exciting new venture, your current actions, and your future plans. We believe that by sharing our insights, resources, and efforts we will all find deeper reservoirs of strength for the journey ahead of us. We suspect that cross-regional projects within the network will also arise over time that would never have occurred without participation in such a collaborative network.

The NCN is an Oklahoma-registered nonprofit with IRS tax exempt status and welcomes funds and in-kind contributions from sponsors to support its efforts. Our website is www.nationalcreativitynetwork.org. The National Creativity Network may be contacted through our website or by contacting directly Dennis Cheek, Office of the Executive Director, National Creativity Network, 12865 Oxford Crossing Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32224-1669, 904-859-6088, Dennis@nationalcreativitynetwork.com.


“Our best hope for the future is to develop a new paradigm of human capacity to meet a new era of human existence. We need to evolve a new appreciation of the importance of nurturing human talent along with an understanding of how human talent expresses itself differently in every individual. We need to create environments – in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our public offices – where every person is inspired to grow creatively . . . . because as the world evolves, the very future of our communities and institutions will depend on it.” Sir Ken Robinson, Honorary Chairman of the National Creativity Network in The Element (Penguin, 2009)

The National Creativity Network (NCN): Unleashing Imagination, Creativity and Innovation to Positively Transform Education, Commerce, Culture and Government – August 2014

2014 USA Creative Business Cup Winner

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