Things really, really have changed. The information age has come – and stayed. Those with the skills for the age have prospered. The last growth curve has been driven by business services – lawyers, programmers, accountants and sharp-eyed, numerate MBAs. But a new time has arrived. These skills are still essential, but in terms of enduring success, are now nothing special. They are the market-entry stakes, simply what we need to play the game. In fact, many business services are migrating to developing countries – for example, over 50% of the US Fortune 500 companies now outsource software work to India and nearly half of General Electric’s software is developed in India. There you can find lawyers and accountants working on contracts and accounts for US and European companies half a world away, but effectively as close as if they were in next cubicle.
So if being a good analyst, code writer, accountant or lawyer is par for the course, an entry-level skill, then who and what makes the difference now? A symphony of new voices supported by wide and rigourous academic research is pointing to a new reality…. it’s the creatives – and the artist in all of us – who are the new leaders and builders of the future.
Dan Pink, author of ‘A Whole New Mind’ describes these new times as the ‘conceptual age’. He says: “The keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”
Professor Richard Florida, of Carnegie Mellon University in the USA is author of two groundbreaking books – ‘the Rise of the Creative Class’ and ‘the Flight of the Creative Class’ has found that regions grow not because money is thrown at them in large-ticket initiatives such as business corridors, technology parks, stadia etc, but because, for a fascinating constellation of reasons, they are able to attract and hold those people he calls the ‘new creatives’. Businesses tend to go to where the talent is, not to where the incentives are.
Florida found a high correlation between proportionally large gay populations in a region and technology growth. Why? It seems that where gays can live comfortably is a leading indicator for a raft of other forms of tolerance; tolerance that allows for all kinds or creative and artistic expression – and ultimately technical innovation. Similarly, a high bohemian indicator – the presence of many artists and musicians – and the presence of many foreign-born residents, are correlated to technical leadership and economic growth.
And who are these new creatives? According to Florida they are people whose work is to ‘create meaningful new forms’ in any number of walks of life. The super- creative core of this new class includes scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers, and architects, as well as the ‘thought leadership’ of modern society: nonfiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts, community leaders and other opinion-makers.
Beyond this core group, the creative class also includes ‘creative professionals’ who work in a wide range of knowledge-intensive industries such as high-tech sectors, financial services, the legal and healthcare professions, and business management. These people engage in complex and creative problem-solving, exercising a great deal of judgment, perhaps trying something radically new from time to time – and sometimes having the good sense not to follow orders.
But why are these creatives so important now? Firstly, in a complex and ubiquitously high-tech world, skills of analysis are essential but of relatively low order. In fact much of the grunt work in formerly arcane fields can be done by software, computers and search engines. Knowledge – that is categorised, analysed and sorted information – is no longer esoteric and secret, held by a cabal of the select and protected few. Now, if you want knowledge about law, engineering, business, finance, it’s barely a click away. Online trading services execute trades far more efficiently that stockbrokers. What is of greater value in all these domains is interpretation and integration – knowledge that is in context, actionable, rich and concise. In espionage terms one would call this an intelligence brief. This is information that has been scrutinised, evaluated, judged – and ultimately given a creative interpretation that is at heart subjective, by a person of experience and insight who can see the hidden patterns and latent meanings. The creative and conceptual leaders excel in this form of interpretation.
The days of the SAMBA – the Smart-Assed MBA who is driven for growth and profitability with little broader social awareness – are over. Instead the progressive MBA schools are looking to create the new young lions – the SIMBAs – Shrewd, Intuitive MBAs with an understanding of relationships, consequence and worth.
Secondly, our lives are being lived in more complex times. Not complicated – for complicated things like a Boeing 747 are ultimately understandable – but complex and somehow mysterious … a marriage is complex, for example. Understanding and working in this complexity is hard to do using literal language and simple models. Our creatives bring new forms of expression that are up to the job of giving sense to our lives. They talk in figurative language, in metaphors and images that bring us understanding if not precision. Their music touches us – ‘sound puts us in the picture’. They help us be vaguely right, rather than precisely wrong.
Thirdly, creatives can both bring beauty and design to our delighted attention and also draw us face to face with difficult realities. The wealthy few, rather than needing more ownership, want meaning, aesthetics and emotional beauty. The many poor without ownership need hope, new forms of business, entrepreneurship and expression. Our new creatives can equip both.
At the same time they drive economic growth in a region by starting up brilliant new businesses no one had thought of before, adapting, linking and morphing old ones and driving out inferior firms. Creative destruction in action, they must destroy part of the status quo to make way for better offerings. As Professor Ralph Stacey, a South African complexity theorist working out of London, says: ”Creativity exists at the edge of system disintegration”.
Attracting creatives means rethinking the traditional development approach. Unwittingly, many of the actions designed by planners and traditional economists to stimulate economies can actually damage them. Our talented creatives go where they want, not where they are placed. Tidying city areas, shifting the chaotic street theatre, clubs, cafés and the countercultural arts scenes to suburbs and ‘development areas’ where creatives can interact to best effect is more likely to kill the golden goose than fatten it. With creativity, it’ s more a case of let it happen (enable, and get out of the way) than ‘make it happen’. The greatest contribution planners can make is to provide environments of tolerance, support for the arts, plenty of opportunities for informal interactivity, safety, and a strong technical infrastructure.
But the final message is that the creatives are not a race apart. They are you and I, released from some of the conceptual baggage of the information age and living the anxieties and excitement of exploring our conceptual talents and creative beings. Practice will lead to mastery. It’s easier to act our way into this new way of thinking that think our way into the new way of acting. Our mantra is Nike’s – “Just Do It”.