My heart sank when I read the Scottish Government was establishing a new council to produce a 10-year national strategy to “drive Scotland’s economic transformation” post-Covid and “unleash entrepreneurial potential”.

Don’t get me wrong. A renewed focus on how sustainably to grow Scotland’s economy is overdue. I hope the initiative, led by Economy Secretary Kate Forbes, succeeds. It’s refreshing to see membership isn’t drawn exclusively from a list of usual suspects. There’s also a welcome sense of urgency, with conclusions promised by late autumn.

It’s just we’ve been here before. Alex Salmond’s Council of Economic Advisers, adorned by global luminaries like Nobelprize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Precious few tangible achievements can be chalked up to its 14-year existence. And the Higgins Report of barely a year ago, providing recommendations about Scotland’s economic recovery from Covid. The new council is an admission its predecessors failed to deliver.

Out-of-the-box thinking is clearly required. Niall Ferguson’s masterful history The Square and the Tower might be useful preparatory reading for the new group. The book’s central thesis is that some of history’s biggest changes were achieved by social networks (the square) rather than hierarchies (the tower).

Why might this be so? The more people you have working on a problem, the more likely and quickly a solution will be found. Today technology, the development of the web and more open source data create infinite possibilities.

In this digital world, the Scottish Government’s latest council feels a bit analogue, despite the obligatory and vague invitation to the public and stakeholders to “share their views” from their holiday sun-beds.

For all his faults, Dominic Cummings – crusading to reform hierarchical government and recognising the importance of data and analytical capabilities – seems to comprehend better the need for a paradigm shift.

Perhaps this is what he hoped to achieve by recruiting into Whitehall an elite cadre of “weirdos” and “misfits” to sit in mission-control, challenge group-think and be system disruptors. His plan, though, was flawed; not so much a square nor even a tower. Rather a bunker, from which to rail at idiots not clever enough to be inside. Not the best environment either for unleashing creative thinking or carrying people with him.

An IBM global survey of more than 1500 CEOS from 60 countries, encompassing 33 industries, found that creativity – original ideas of value – was selected as the most crucial factor for future success.

Many believe creativity is innate. Some people are just more creative than others. There are, of course, natural born geniuses. People do experience single, light-bulb moments. Increasingly, however, creativity is understood as a skill that can also be learned and developed. And creative thinking is recognised as a process, not a single event.

Creativity needs the right environment to flourish. Encouraging people at the outset to ask the right questions and feel able to float fresh ideas without fear of making fools of themselves. Fostering a team of constructively challenging collaborators, bouncing around alternatives and helping refine propositions to the point of practicality. Then deploying communication skills to convince others to back you. So it’s easy to see why creativity might flourish more in a social network than a hierarchy. And illustrating, by the way, the limits of unsocial home-working.

Tech giants like Apple, Google and Facebook understand the importance of providing space for creativity and collaboration and it's why they build their offices to resemble squares rather than towers.

This poses a real challenge to elected politicians held to account every four or five years for our wellbeing. In reality politicians and governments don’t hold all the levers to affect change. Ms Forbes and her team would be well advised quickly to accept what they can’t influence and identify what they can. Here’s three for starters.

Top of the list must be knowledge. If a ‘thousand points of light’ are to shine then it’s education that empowers them to do so. Scotland spends more per head on schooling than any other part of the UK. So why is attainment not commensurately higher too? And is it possible to encourage creative thinking from an early age without losing focus or the rigour of teaching PISA-measured basics?

Next up incentives. Creativity requires motivation. If Scotland’s entrepreneurial potential is to be realised, understanding what drives people to turn ideas into something of value is essential. Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. Business starters. Big company innovators. Public sector change agents. For some, entrepreneurship is about taking on financial risk in the hope of profit. For others, the opportunity to make the world a better place.

The profit motive and altruism needn’t be in conflict; government can harness both. Take tax. Scotland’s top rate income tax-payers represent just 0.6% of all income taxpayers, yet they provide over 17% of the revenues. In the rest of the UK proportions are broadly double. If Scotland could broaden its base of top rate taxpayers to an equivalent level – by making for example Scotland the most welcoming home for entrepreneurs – schools and hospitals will benefit.

Finally, local empowerment. Scotland’s economy has diverse strengths and needs, which Scotland’s over-centralised government isn’t best placed to understand. Genuine devolution within Scotland is required.

Collaboration assists creativity. That’s why helping to strengthen place-based networks makes so much sense. Connecting up, in regional powerhouses, the people who know their area best and putting them in the driving seat.

Scotland’s network of City and Growth Deals are a useful first step. With strengthened governance, extended responsibilities and fresh incentives, deeper partnerships between business, academic institutions, local authorities and the Scottish and UK Governments can evolve – with more civil servants from both governments re-deployed from HQ and embedded on the economic frontline to help build capacity.

Can the Forbes Group think creatively and step beyond normal and comfortable political tramlines? In 100 days, judge its 10-year strategy against these tests.

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