Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Creative Class

In Richard Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class, the author demonstrates how an increased investment in research and development within industry and academia during the early 2oth century fueled the rise of a creative class in the United States. While still unorganized and largely unrecognized, this growing group shares similar values and goals. Furthermore, the creative class spans art, science, music, and other information fields.

To get a sense of how the creative class spans different fields but centers around basic types of people, author Richard Florida compares Andy Warhol to Thomas Edison, noting how similar their workstyles were and, possibly, their personalities. Both Warhol and Edison amassed a large amount of work and inspired others to create a number of items as well. Both Warhol and Edison designed large creative spaces - Warhol had the Factory and Edison had his New Jersey Labs. Both Warhol and Edison allowed people to work on their own projects, collaborate on their projects, and found time to indepently explore their creations as well.

In other words, "creative" is used here to refer to a unique way of organizing, synthesizing, and reorganizing patterns and data. Most importantly, the creative class flocks together. Dating back to the rise of Silicon Valley, Richard Florida details how creative groups come together and thrive off of each other in seeminly unrelated industries such as music and software design. The first example of this is the proximity and timing of the rise of Silicon Valley to not only Stanford University but also to the hippie districts of the late 60s. Gifted hippies (Jobs, Wozniak, the Homebrew Club) were able to find work and a creative outlet in the early computer companies, coexisting with the aging eccentric engineers. This pattern is repeated throughout the U.S. in Seattle (Nirvana/Microsoft), Austin (South by Southwest Festival/Linkletter/Dell), and other locations. The main point is that creativity breeds creativity and creativity attracts creativity, not because all the creative people are doing the same thing, but because all the creative people need the same type of environment and share similar life goals.

The rise of the creative class correlates with the decline of the working class and the rise of the service class (which provide many services to the creative class) creative class. This may sound elitist but Florida also argues that it is imperative to better train individuals to move into the economic creative class or to readily apply service skills to gain sucess.

Another major mark of the creative class is that growing numbers "front-load" their careers - long periods of education and hard work (post-docs, residincies, assistant professorships, numerous albums, constant touring) while deferring marriage and children. This has altered the traditional workplace and leads to the shift from the vertical corporate ladder to the horizontal division of labor (discussed below) and also allows an individual to establish early credibility allowing greater influence later in life with less work geared simply at getting your feet grounded and more on creating, flexibility, synthesizing, training/teaching others, and reflecting. (the tenured professor).

The idea of the creative class ties in perfectly with Leavitt's ideas of information leverage (the doctor and real estate agent in Freakonmics) and helps explain the technological advances discussed in Friedman's technodeterminist work, the World is Flat. Furthermore, Florida's Creative Class takes the much discussed knowledge/information based economy and posits that the creative class is what generates, drives, and manages the growing knowledge economy.

The Creative Class is also changing work environments (1. vertical division is replaced with horizontal division of labor, 2. people identify with their occupation/profession, not their company, and 3. greater assumed risk by the individual) and management styles (1. creative work is not repetitive, 2. it goes on inside people's head so a lot of it is not observable, 3. creative people tend to rebel at efforts to manage them systematically).
For these reasons, soft control has become a more common management tactic, marked by a system of peer recognition and competitive peer pressure. Certainly this is demonstrated in academia through the peer reviewed system and in music through magazines, blogs, club bookings, record contracts, and influential scenters - and of course market forces.

The divisions between work and life are dissovling for the creative class - creativity is not turned on at particular times or hours - the compartmentalization of labor has grown fuzzy. The potential downside to this is that we are becoming workaholics - but, as Florida points out, we are also saving ourselves from lives doomed at watching a clock, counting the seconds to clocking out.

Richard Florida's most important contributions may come in the 4th section of his manuscript in which he suggests that the cities that will thrive in the future will be those that maintain and nurture a creative class, becoming a Creative Center. He goes on to suggest that how we decide to live and work will be partly dictated by our desire to be in a Creative Center. Florida notes that the creative class are high salary earners and make significant economic contributions. Therefore, he observes, the creative centers are economic winners - with "high concentrations of Creative Class people, they have high concentrations of creative economic outcomes, in the form of innovations and high-tech industry growth. They also show strong signs of overall regional vitality such as increases in employment and population" (this goes well with Friedman's arguments concerning the shifting patterns in employment - new job titles created with job innovation). These Creative Centers, the author continues, are not thriving for traditional reasons - such as access to natural resources and transportation routes - instead they thrive from creative capital where artistic, cultural, technological, and economic creativity thrive. Over the 20th centruy, the cities that have grown the most economically have also had the highest density of human capital (as measured by education level) - corporations and firms come to these places to get access to the talent pool. In other words, economic growth is driven by where creative people choose to locate.

Furthermore, Florida goes on to note that creative people of all types flock to locations that breed further creativity. Many creative people, argues Florida, need an open environment that is tolerant of new ideas and maintains a social space for creativity to thrive. Therefore, many creative people may access how tolerant and diverse a location is before settling there. One proxy for this is the "gay index" - or how welcoming a particular community is to the gay population. As a matter of fact, economic growth and high density of high-tech/innovative fields orrelates very well with the gay index. It does not mean that most people in high tech are gay, it just means that high tech people are going to be more likely to settle in a place that is also attractive to members of the gay community. A similar correlation is demonstrated with the "bohemian index" - a measure of openenss to new ideas.

From these correlations, the author develops his three Ts of success for a region - technology, talent, and tolerance. Between 1990 and 2003, those regions with the highest ratings in each of those stats also had the highest economic growth.

In the final section of "The Creative Class" Richard Florida demonstrates how Austin, TX and Dublin, Ireland have sucessfully applied the three Ts to become leading areas of creativity and growth.

Richard Florida's Site
Creative TampaBay
Buy it at Amazon

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