Breaking Down the Language Barrier between Creatives and Businesspeople

Kenia Afreeka
Nov 18 · 4 min read

I gave a presentation recently on the Creative Economy at the ‘Skills for the Future’ Summit in Barbados. It generated some interest and led to insightful discussions, which may be worth exploring further here.

I spoke about 5 ‘Mindset Resets’ that I think would help make meaningful change in the Caribbean Creative Economy. If we want it to grow, I believe we need to shift our thinking about the creative economy itself, starting with the first reset: how we think and talk about the creative business model.

So… what’s the business?

Creativity comes to us naturally in the Caribbean. We use music, dance and lyrics to creatively express our inner feelings and emotions every day. So it is easy to not think of creativity as real business.

There is no universally shared language between Caribbean creatives and traditional business people that easily explains what happens between creative expression which we do for fun, and creative business which we do for money. This language barrier can become a significant challenge when we are trying to build strategic partnerships and raise investment for creative projects.

I’ve experienced some ‘lost in translation’ moments over the past few months while raising money for the production of the new ‘Lime Tree Lane’ animated series. The most frequently asked questions I receive from well-meaning financiers and potential partners from traditional businesses are:

So… what is animation now?

Is it really business or just something on the side?

How does it make MONEY?

How can it make ME money?

I interpret these as part of a bigger discussion: What’s the creative business model? The answer, of course, is that it is broadly similar to the traditional business model. But there are a few differences. For starters, the inputs are intangible.

Creating a Shared Language

The first piece of the puzzle is understanding the importance of creative expression as a raw material for the creative business. IP and innovation begin with creative expression.

Manufacturers convert raw materials into widgets which are traded. Creative companies convert creative expression into intellectual property which can be traded in various forms. But this isn’t through wizardry or pure ‘buck ups’. There is a pretty established process. I’ve mapped out one way of thinking about it here:

Creative Expression in, Money out (modified Nov, 2019)

Creative expression is what we naturally do to share our emotions, get our ideas out of our heads or ‘build a vibes’. But when we document it, protect it by submitting it to a local IP office or performing poor man’s copyright for example, and then trade them or their derived assets for money, creative expression enters the Creative Economy. Of course vibes can still be built, but someone’s paying for it.

When business persons and creatives both understand this part of the process, then discussing a project partnership starts with more focused questions, like:

What rights do you have to this IP?

How do you intend to exploit it?

Who’s the audience and how will we reach them?

What’s great about this conversation is that it’s now about how we produce, distribute and build value. These are universal steps across any traditional or creative business.

Everyone’s Got Ideas. Not Everyone Has IP.

There are some misconceptions that can cloud this conversation. A common one is ‘my idea is worth something,’ which is only true in your mind where it exists.

Documenting and protecting an idea are first steps for converting creative expression to IP. If you’re interested in collaborating with others, what’s really worth something is execution and demonstrated value.

Even if creative expression is documented, it may not be deemed original enough to become IP that can be traded for money. Many viral videos using other persons’ IP fit into this bucket. But these can make great portfolio pieces that can be shared to build an audience you can later make money from, with IP of your own.

Let’s Start the Conversation

Many of today’s creative entrepreneurs are pioneers. They aren’t following a map on a paved highway. They are clearing a path through the woods, because much of what they do hasn’t been figured out and codified yet. Financial instruments, training programs and policies to enable the growth of the creative economy are being developed and improved as we speak.

So a part of building a creative business today is the necessary work of communicating with the business community to build confidence and relationships. This means negotiating may take longer as we learn each other’s language. But hopefully with a shared understanding of and appreciation for creative expression as a raw material for IP and making money, we will have a firmer starting point for discussing future creative partnerships.


Kenia is a founder of ListenMi, an animation preproduction and design studio for diverse content. She enjoys developing creative products, services and communities. Give this post a👏 👏👏 if you’re thinking about this stuff, and share it with others who do too.

Keep in touch with her on twitter, instagram, or see more of the team’s work on ListenMi’s instagram.

Thoughts on animation, culture-inspired storytelling, technology and social change from a Jamaican animation studio and design lab.

Kenia Afreeka

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