Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Flight of the Creative Class

The Flight of the Creative Class – The New Global Competition for Talent by Richard Florida

I’ve heard Richard Florida’s name pop up in a number of different places. That got me interested in his writing and so I picked up a copy of The Flight of the Creative Class not really knowing what to expect. Turns out to be a great read with many interesting points. Here are a few of them that stood out.

Again I've highlighted my comments in blue throughout the text below. The italics in the text are transcribed from the book. The bold is my editorial emphasis.

This first quote is a wake up call that we as a community (business, neighborhood, city, region, state, country, federation) can’t expect to compete using the same strategies that guided us through the last century. I think it’s a good reminder that the game has changed.

Page 16
“The United States today faces its greatest competitive challenge of the past century, perhaps of its young life. The reason is basic: The key factor of the global economy is no longer goods, services, or flows of capital, but the competition for people. The ability to attract people is a dynamic and sensitive process. New centers of the global creative economy can emerge quickly; established players can lose position. It’s a wide-open game, and the playing field is levelng every day.”

This next quote speaks to my personal decision to leave the corporate job and seek a new path. Less money, at least for the short term is well worth the exhiliration of waking up each day knowing that I can use the hours ahead of me to create the next chapter of my life. Sounds kind of “out there” but that’s what it feels like. It’s amazing how the days of the week have changed their meaning. M-F used to mean “go to work”. Now I think of those days as the days when everyone else is at work which makes it easier for me to do certain things. Sat-Sun are days when other people want to play. Mon-Sun are a combination of this for me. (If you read my brief notes about Free Agent Nation you may recognize that this paragraph could just as easily been written about that book.)

Page 27
“Perhaps the most incredible thing about the creative age is that it holds the possibility not only for economic growth and prosperity, but also for a much fuller development of human potential in general. Over the past decade, I’ve interviewed literally hundreds of people, from executives and engineers to secretaries and recent college graduates, who left secure jobs for something new. Very few of them were doing it for a stock-option bonanza, which they knew was a long shot, or for higher pay – usually the pay was lower. Time and again they told me they cherished the chance to do “exciting work” and to play a part in “building something new.” In short, people love to do creative work; it’s what we’re about.

“The point is not that we should all join start-ups or become hairstylists. It’s simply that what growing numbers of Americans want today is the very same thing needed to strengthen our economy: not just financial gain but the opportunity to engage their creative faculties. The best part of this equation is that the kind of work that people love is also the work that leads to prosperity.”

Changing perspectives a little I agree with Florida that we have to do a much better job of tapping into the creativity of everyone. There are so many ways to do this and we do a pretty poor job of reaching deeper into the talent pool.

Page 34
“The single most overlooked – and single most important – element of my theory is the idea that every human being is creative.” “Creative capital is thus a virtually limitless resource.” “Each of us has creative potential that we strive to exercise, and that can be turned to valuable ends.” “If we are to truly prosper, we can no longer tap and reward the creative talents of a minority; everyone’s creative capabilities must be fully engaged. In my opinion, the great challenge of our time will be to spark and stoke the creative furnace inside every human being.”

I’m trying to do something about this in the context of Renewable Energy and Energy efficiency. As many of you know I left my last job with the intention of getting involved in this field and using my software and technical skills to make a difference. I’ve discovered that it’s incredibly hard to find my way into this industry and there is essentially no matchmaker out there to help with this process. Big job boards like Monster don’t have the focus and most of the companies in this industry are not very good at telling their story and finding the skilled people that they need to grow. I’m starting a project to do something about this at If you’re interested in helping out with this project let me know and I’ll share the password with you.

Page 77
“To simply assume that creative people are motivated mainly by the chance to get rich is, to put it bluntly, inaccurate. The majority of research on the subject finds that intrinsic rewards are far more effective in motivating creative people than money alone.”

“Often we see that greed – the desire to maximize gain, to focus on getting ahead- only gets in the way. It fuels our often-unsustainable, 24/7, always-on pace of life.” “The society that can build the most productive and efficient mechanisms for harnessing human creative energy will move ahead of those continuing to make a fetish of the greed motive.”

Again, this next quote could come straight from Free Agent Nation and my own mouth. Part of my own transformation around insisting that work be fulfilling is that it continued to creep in and take over more of my time and energy leaving less “work-free” time for all of the rest of life. If I’m going to wake up in the morning with my first thoughts of the day about work it better be something I really care about!

Page 86
“What do most people think about when they hear the phrase the American Dream? My parents and grandparents knew what this meant: You got a decent job, worked hard, learned and taught your kids, made sure they got a good education. You saved your money, bought a nice home in a nice community with good schools. That, in a nutshell, was the old dream. It was a curious and for its time powerful blending of the economic view that greed powers economic growth and centralist notions of the Protestant ethic and the melting pot. As great as it was, its days are over.”

“Today we are seeing the rise of a new dream in America and across the world that promises much more. “The most remarkable feature of the modern workplace has nothing to do with computers, automation or globalization,” writes Alain de Botton. “Rather it lies in the Westernworld’s widely held belief that work should make us happy” Botton rightly notes that, though work has always been a defining and central element to a nation’s or a culture’s identity, now for the first time in world history job searches are predicated on the idea that one’s work ought to be “fulfilling,” to use the parlance of the time.”

“…the new dream is a job you love, doing work you enjoy, and living in a community where you can be yourself.”

Switching focus again now we start to get into the part of the book where Florida talks about where talent comes from and what we are doing to either scare it away or attract it. Subtle but powerful things are happening around the world to change the balance of where people want to be and he goes on to stress that this is not a small issue.

Page 117-118
“By 2003, antiterrorism measures had begun to catch up not just with visa applications but also with requests for more permanent U.S residence. Thanks to delays in the processing of green-card applications, only 705,827 people became legal permanent residents that year, down from 1.06 million in 2002.”

“Its difficult to understand who benefits from this kind of stagnant waiting game.”

“Well, respond skeptics of calls for efficient immigration processing, that’s the price you pay for hitching your wagon to the most powerful economy in the world.” “But we forget when we make statements like this that one of the primary drivers of this economy are those very wagons we sometimes treat so incredulously. Immigration to the United States is a mutually beneficial arrangement for newcomer and host country alike, and we would do well to start seeing it that way.”

“Such long delays…discourage many from every coming to the United States again.”

I find Florida’s discussion of the entities that are in competition at different scales to be quite fascinating. When I started into my research in the Renewable energy industry many people assumed that I would have to move to some other region (I currently live Minneapolis) because they think of “other places” as being more progressive regarding this industry. While this is probably true it is a powerful example of how we have snap judgments about cities, regions and countries in terms of industry competitiveness and acceptance of new ideas. See Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

Page 158
“The competition for talent is not just between nations: The real battle is among cities and regions.”

Page 200
“The sprawl that demands and in turn is demanded by traffic congestion also wreaks havoc on our competitiveness. A stretched-out, sprawled metropolis…where entrepreneurs and newcomers are forced to the economic periphery will lose the advantages that come from proximity, density, spontaneity, and face-to-face interaction.”

The next question is what does this new competition do to us as individuals and to our health?

Page 202
With the elimination of larger institutional and social support structures, the creative economy downloads stress and anxiety directly onto individuals.”

And what conditions are necessary for us to maximize our creativity?

Page 203
“When I asked him what motivated his people to do their best, most productive work, he told me they simply needed to be “centered.” It’s impossible, he added, to be creative when you are stressed and anxious…You need time to get into flow, and once flow is disrupted, in cannot be magically wished back. Stress and anxiety disrupt and damage the creative process…

“Companies across this country and the world are scrambling for ways to reduce stress and anxiety on their workforce…They realize that people work more creatively and productively when they’re not stressed. Quality of work-life is the wave of the future, not just because it is a good thing to do, but because by relieving stress and anxiety, companies can capitalize on their creative capital and gain a productive advantage. The same is true of cities, regions, and nations: Those that have a higher quality of life for individuals and families, and less stress and anxiety, will enjoy not just a better lifestyle but more productive use of their creative assets.”

And then on to how our political institutions and practices influence our ability as a city, state or country to respond to the changing situation.

Page 208
“By viewing American politics through the lens of national elections, the national media, and broad public-opinion polls miss the underlying conditions causing our divisions.

“The real and enduring change in American political life lies in what I call the “molecular structure” of our politic – in the economic and demographic makeup and the political and cultural preferences of America’s regions and cities. The divide I see in this country isn’t between Republicans and Democrats, nor does it turn on your view on gay marriage. The real fault line that threatens our collective future runs along hidden fissures that shape the economic life chances of people in different parts of this country. Our divisions are between a relatively small group of regions whose openness and tolerance reinforces their position atop the heap in innovation, creativity, and economic growth, and a second group that is losing ground domestically and internationally, and whose people are becoming more anxious, less open, and more resistant to change. The real failure of our time is our collective inability to articulate to this majority of Americans how they, too, can participate in and benefit from the creative economy.

I was at a BioFuels conference in Ames Iowa a couple of weeks ago and one of the most powerful things I witnessed was the excitement that people in this corn growing super-power felt for the future of bio-based industry. It was clear that a region of the country that may has felt “left out” is starting to get extremely excited about how the creativity of the bio-based industry has the potentially to change their communities in previously unimaginable ways.

“…how will our country’s political situation affect its ability to attract talent and prosper globally in the creative age?...The United States gained a huge advantage during the last economic transformation – the Industrial Revolution – because of our openness and ability to rapidly harness new people and ideas. Our dilemma today is similar: Can we work out our difference and generate consensus quickly enough to regain our ability to attract global talent and effectively leverage the creative economy transformation to our advantage?”

I have to admit that this next comment about how our current flavor of division is relatively mild completely surprised me. I’ve never heard anyone suggest this before and I love it. I was amazed to be talking happily in Iowa with a farmer from near Ames and an investment banker from NYC. The enthusiasm that existed at the conference brought us together in a way that made any differences we may have had about gay marriage or other similar topics seem small by comparison.

Page 217
“Any large-scale economic transition produces political and cultural cleavages. I think most historians would agree that our own twenty-first-century round of polarization is relatively mild in comparison to, say, the outright class warfare that accompanied the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’ rise of the industrial economy…

“To the chagrin of doomsday prophets on all sides of the political game, the fact of the matter is that our current round of polarization is actually less severe, and potentially less damaging domestically and globally, than other, similar periods of economic change. At bottom, I view the cultural cleavages at work today not as some permanent feature of our social and political landscape, but rather as yet another rocky adjustment to our rapid economic transformation. And it will not be solved until more people – many more people – perceive that they, too, can participate fruitfully in the creative economy. It’s impossible politically and economically to build a fully creative society when just 30 percent of the workforce reaps the full rewards of that economy’s productivity. Still, it’s an important adjustment to pay attention to.”

Are there any politicians of other politically inclined people reading this? I’m curious to explore this idea further as it seems to hold immense potential in my eyes.

Page 229
“…it’s essential to recognize an important fact. Economic transformations never complete themselves. A political solution is required to fully realize the potential of a new economic and social order. The responsibility of making a case for this new order rests implicitly with the progressive forces within a society. If these progressive forces fail to spell out exactly how a better and more inclusive future can benefit all people – from the creative to the manufacturing to the service sectors – the de facto choice of the people will be a conservative or reactionary regime. Change is frightening. It is the role of the right – the conservative forces within a society – to hark back to a better time, a golden age long past. For those on the left who would like to blame Karl Rove and the Christian right, it’s important to remember that it’s the failure of progressive forces to articulate the case for a better and more prosperous society that plays a substantial part in our current predicament.”

Ouch, that last bit hits really close to home, but it also provides the first clue for a path to a future that is compelling.

And now the big question - can we actually find our way through this? I guess I’m a little more optimistic than Florida, I believe we can.

Page 235
“…But America has an uncanny ability to remake itself for new times…

“Can we do it again? That’s the question before each and every one of us. I say this humbly and with great nervousness: This is the toughest economic and social challenge we’ve faced in a long, long time. For the first time in my life, I’m honestly not so certain”

“…in my opinion this is the gravest threat to our economic competitiveness of the past century.”

“Competition today is not limited to one, two, or even several great powers. Rather, it comes from many places simultaneously, and is harder to home in on precisely because it’s so diffuse. The most likely scenario, in my view, is not that one nation will overtake the U.S. as the dominant power on the global stage, but just that the world stage will see the rise of many more significant players.”

Page 240-241
“Unfortunately, in recent years the powerful political forces at either end of the spectrum have tended to wide a right-left chasm that grows less and less navigable and a dichotomy between materialistic and moralistic values that grows more and more false. At the same time that truly important issues don’t even get mentioned in the public sphere, the extremes have actually become the status quo. The end result is that people grow disillusioned with the political process and choose not to participate. The leading force for political change, the creative class, has for all intents and purposes opted out of the political process. Instead, it’s members vote with their feet, looking for the city, region, or country that offers the most opportunity and best reflects their values.

“Here we confront a deep and insidious tension of the creative age. Unlike previous dominant classes, such as the working class, members of the creative class have little direct incentive to become involved in conventional politics. When we get involved in broader social issues, we’re likely to do it in a local scale or through some alternative way of our own choosing rather than through either of the major political parties. The whole basis of the creative ethos is individual creative pursuit and the shunning of traditional forms. The paradox is that this is not necessarily conducive to the highly organized political effort needed to bring our new age to the fore…

“The end result is a gaping vacuum, and nothing to fill it. The biggest competitiveness crisis in thirty or forty years and no leading edge group to take it on. Thus the central dilemma of our time: Even though the creative economy generates vast innovative, wealth creating, and productive promise, left to its own devices it will neither realize that promise nor solve the myriad social problems confronting us today.”

So, what can we do about all of this. Florida offers a couple of suggestions:

Page 250
“To make the most of increased education and training investments, countries must redouble their efforts to generate high-end creative jobs in R&D, innovation, higher education, and arts and culture. They must reduce barriers to entrepreneurship and encourage even more new company formation. In short, the world economy requires a wide-reaching effort not just to pump out creative talent but also to increate the market for creative opportunities.

“Investment in creative infrastructure means more than just increased R&D spending. It must involve massive increases in spending – from both he private and public sectors – in the arts, culture, and all forms of innovation and creativity.”

I'm going to repeat that last line - in the arts, culture, and all forms of innovation and creativity. I believe that one creative act leads to another. By being around people that are pushing the edge forward we see how we can participate and add our own contributions to the work that is being done.

Page 252
“Unfortunately, we now seem to want to send our top foreign talent packing. ‘When you graduate from Stanford University with an advanced degree in the sciences or engineering, we them make you go home,’ venture capitalist John Doerr told Silicon Valley’s Technet Innovation Summit. ‘We should be stapling a green card to your diploma.’

The idea of stapling a Green Card to Engineering and science degrees probably makes a lot of isolationists cringe but I’m a supporter. I’ve worked with too many people that had to leave because of visa issues and it really sucks for everyone involved.

I just had to call out these paragraphs as Florida goes to great length to recognize my home town. Why am I staying in Minneapolis to do the work of my future? what he says…

Page 261-262
“Often I add that it makes sense to look for models outside the United States in regions like Toronto, Stockholm, and Helsinki, all of which combine strong technology and creative sectors with relatively low levels of inequality, good schools, low crime, safe streets, and high level of social cohesion and stability.

“But there is at least one region in the United States that may be worth a closer look: Minneapolis-St. Paul. The greater Minneapolis region combines both a strong creative economy with low rates of poverty, affordable housing, and a balanced income distribution…It scores among the top U.S. regions on my Creativity Index, is one of only 34 U.S. metropolitan regions (out of 331) to boast a positive brain-gain index, and is one of just 13 percent of American cities that the Brookings Institution classified as a “balanced” income region.

“With large Somali and Hmong immigrant populations, three openly gay city-council members, and an extremely high level of micro level neighborhood racial integration, the Twin Cities are increasingly known as a bastion of tolerance. Add to this equation affordable housing prices, high wages, low unemployment, and low poverty, and it’s easy to see why college students and foreigners alike are flocking to Minneapolis-St. Paul’s universities, jobs, and communities. As a result, the region has seen high growth in its creative class occupations – especially in the knowledge and education clusters. The key to its success, then, lies in the fact that not only is it attracting the best and the brightest; it’s also taking care of all its citizens and tapping their creative energies. Unfortunately, Minneapolis-St. Paul is the exception to the rule among American regions.

As with many larger-scale problems, it makes little sense for one person to make specific recommendations about what many greatly differing regions need. What we will really require, when it comes time roll up our sleeves and improve our urban centers, is a Manhattan Project on the future of the American city. We owe it to the places that made our country great.”

And to close with a reminder of how we’re all in this together.

Page 269
“The role of the United States in generating creativity and talent is a concern not only for U.S. businesses and policy makers, but for all nations. American universities and corporations have long been the educators and innovators for the world. If this engine stalls – or if political decisions about immigration, visas, and scientific research put sugar in its gas tank – the whole world will have to live with the repercussions.

The creative age requires nothing short of a change in worldview. Creativity is not a tangible asset like mineral deposits, something that can be hoarded or fought over, or even bought and sold. We must begin to think of creativity as a common good, like liberty or security. It’s something essential that belongs to all of us, and that must always be nourished, renewed, and maintained – or else it will slip away.”

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