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The Rise of the Creative Class

Creativeclass Elli Pollard on Richard Florida

The Transformation of Everyday Life

The driving force behind the current transformation in our society is the rise of human creativity as the key factor in our economy and society.  We value creativity more highly than ever and cultivate it more intensely.  In virtually every industry, the winners in the long run are those who can consistently create.  Therefore, the creative individual is no longer viewed as an iconoclast.  Rather he or she is the new mainstream.
The economic need for creativity has registered itself in the rise of a new class, which Florida calls the Creative Class.  About 30 % of all employed people belong to this new class.  This includes people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create.  The Creative Class also includes creative professionals in business and finance, law, healthcare and related fields.

The Creative Age

The Creative Ethos

Creativity is essential to the way we live and work today, and in many senses always has been.  To advance our standard of living we need “better recipes, not just more cooking”.  Also, human creativity is multifaceted and multidimensional.  It involves distinct kinds of thinking and habits that must be cultivated in both the individual and in the surrounding society.
Creativity involves the ability to synthesize, and it requires self-assurance and the ability to take risks.  Creative work can often be considered subversive since it disrupts existing patterns of thought and life.  It is no surprise that the creative ethos marks a strong departure from the conformist ethos of the past.
Although the creative process seems elusive, there does appear to be a consistent method underlying it.  It has been put into a four-step process by many researchers.  The steps are: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification or revision.

The Creative Economy

Today’s economy is fundamentally a creative economy.  Creativity is the new means of production and innovation is its product.  The joint expansion of technological innovation and creative content work has become the force of economic growth.  Investment in creativity in the form of research and development spending has grown by 800 % since the 1950’s.  In addition to the dramatic growth of R&D investment, the Creative Economy is supported by an extensive venture capital system that accelerates the processes of new firm formation and commercial innovation.

The Creative Class

Florida’s definition of class emphasizes the way people organize themselves into social groupings and common identities based principally on their economic function.  Their social and cultural preferences, consumption, and social identities all flow from this.  A shift from emphasis on economic and physical security toward increasing emphasis on self-expression, subjective well-being, and quality of life has occurred.


The Machine Shop and the Hair Salon

Florida uses the examples of the machine shop and the hair salon to cite reasons why today’s employees are drawn to certain types of work.  He found that when he asked his students where they would rather work, they overwhelmingly chose the hair salon over the machine shop – even though it didn’t pay as well.  In essence, people want to work for challenge, enjoyment, to do good, to make a contribution, and to learn.  The only way people will go back to working in machine shops is if the machine shops start embracing the new values and structures of the creative age.

Horizontal Labor Market

People don’t stay tied to companies anymore.  Instead of moving up in one organization, they move laterally from company to company in search of what they want.  Americans now change jobs on average every 31/2 years.  Some view this new trend as a free agent paradise, while pessimists view the change as a sign of social fragmentation and “the end of work”.  Either way employment insecurity is the new way of life.  The new labor market shaped by these trends has three chief characteristics.  The first, as cited above, is the tendency towards horizontal career moves, second is that people have come to identify more with their occupation or profession than with a company.  Finally, people bear more responsibility for every aspect of their careers. 

The No-Collar Workplace

Many features of the work place seem to be more open: open dress codes, flexible schedules, and open office layouts.  The features that contribute to workplace performance, organizational efficiency and consequently profit are the ones that last.  Casual dress gradually crept into the workplace, not only because it’s more comfortable, but also because creative work came to be highly regarded, and creative people have a tendency to dress as they please.  The new code of dress is evolving toward one of diversity and tolerance.  A 1997 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicated that nearly 30% of all full-time wage and salary workers varied their schedules to some degree.  This is partly in response to changing social needs, and also indicates the fact that creative thinking is hard to turn on and off at will.  Offices look and feel different now partly because innovation is fundamentally social and companies are designing spaces that reflect this.

Managing Creativity

There are many views on how to manage creativity. Some try to impose order and bureaucracy, while others insist that creativity can’t be managed from above.  Most views fall somewhere between the extremes.  Fewer than half of all professionals feel that their company inspires them to do their best work according to a 2001 Towers Perrin study.  This leaves much work to be done, for companies that manage people well will outperform other companies by 30-40%.  This has led to changes in the work place.  In this change toward eliciting creativity, the workplace tends to become both more stressful and more caring.  However the best ways to harness creativity are still being worked out and the nature of the employment contract is undergoing dramatic change.  The old employment contract was group oriented and emphasized job security.  The new one is tailored to the needs and desires of the individual.  This is a result of workers that are more likely to look for short-term deals as well as the fact that creative people see themselves as unique individuals that should be rewarded according to their unique skill sets.  People have come to expect the key features of the no-collar workplace and simply won’t work in places that don’t offer them.

The Time Warp

While Creative Class people tend to work longer hours, many other factors contribute to the feeling of being crunched for time.  The primary change is that our use of time has intensified.  We try to pack every moment full of activities and experiences.  In the process, the ways we think about time as well as use it are being warped into new configurations.  One factor contributing to this time warp is the relentless march of technologies that extend the workday.  Also, at the end of the day in any creative field there are bound to be unsolved problems that continue to linger in the back of one’s mind “after hours”.  Florida mentions four other factors that contribute to a warped sense of time: flexibility of being able to come and go as one pleases throughout the workday, “frontloading” one’s career and deferring one’s life, life-shifting or changing one’s way of life, and attempts towards “deepening the moment”, or packing each moment as full as possible.  In general, we are shifting from the consumption of goods to the consumption of experience, a theme that takes us from the sphere of work to the sphere of life.

Life and Leisure

The Experiential Life

In many ways the Creative Class lifestyle comes down to a passionate quest for experience – a creative life packed full of intense, high quality, multidimensional experiences.  The kinds of experiences they crave reflect and reinforce their identities as creative people.  With life itself having become the scarce commodity, many increasingly define the quality of their lives by the quality of experiences they consume.  The Creative Class enjoys highly active forms of recreation in part because they attain more entertainment value per unit of time.  Similarly, the Creative Class is drawn to street-level culture because they can easily do several things in one excursion. 

The Big Morph

When the markers that distinguish one type of person from another start to disintegrate, it’s a clear sign that profound social change is afoot.  High and low brow, alternative and mainstream, work and play, CEO and hipster are all morphing together today.  At the core of the Big Morph is a new resolution between two value systems:  the Protestant work ethic and the bohemian ethic.  The Protestant work ethic says meaning is to be found in hard work.  The bohemian ethic says value is to be found in pleasure and happiness.  These two ethics have met head on and have morphed into a new work ethic – the creative ethos – steeped in the cultivation of creativity.  The people of the creative ethos want to contribute, they want to be heard, and they see no need for overthrowing establishment.  They will be helping society run on an even more powerful work ethic.  They represent a new mainstream setting the norms and pace for much of society.


The Power of Place

What really matters to us in making the life decision of where to live and work?  Jobs are not the whole story.  There are a host of considerations that Florida has culled from his research.  The Creative Class is moving to Creative Centers. What people are looking for in these areas are abundant high-quality amenities and experiences, openness to diversity, and above all the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people.  The “creative capital theory” says that regional economic growth is driven by the location choices of creative people – the holders of creative capital – who prefer places that are diverse, tolerant and open to new ideas.  “Quality of Place “ refers to the unique set of characteristics that define place and make it attractive.  It has three dimensions: what’s there, who’s there, and what’s going on.  Successful places provide a range of quality of place options for different kinds of people at different stages in their life.

The Geography of Creativity

In his studies, Florida has found two major trends.  The first is a new geographic sorting along class lines.  The second is that the centers of the creative class are more likely to be the economic winners.  However, the key to economic growth lies not just in the ability to attract the Creative Class, but to translate that advantage into new ideas, new high-tech businesses and regional growth.  To help gauge these capabilities, Florida developed the “Creative Index”, which is a mix of four different factors: the Creative Class share of the workforce; innovation, measured in patents per capita; high-tech industry; and diversity.  This composite indicator is a better measure of a region’s underlying creative capabilities than the simple measure if the Creative Class because it reflects the joint efforts of its concentration and of innovative economic outcomes.  Florida offers it as a barometer of a region’s longer run economic potential.

Technology, Talent and Tolerance – The 3 T’s of Economic Development

To attract creative people, generate innovation and stimulate economic growth, a place must have Technology, Talent and Tolerance.  If it does not, it will fall farther behind.

From Social Capital to Creative Capital

The kinds of communities that we desire and that generate economic prosperity are very different from those of the past.  Traditional notions of what it means to be a close, cohesive community and society tend to inhibit economic growth and innovation.  Weak ties are now more effective.  Our evolving communities and emerging society are marked by a greater diversity of friendships, more individualistic pursuits and weaker ties within the community.  Places with dense ties and high levels of traditional social capital provide advantages to insiders and thus promote stability, whereas places with looser networks and weaker ties are more open to newcomers and thus promote novel combinations of resources and ideas.  Both human capital and creative capital models lead to economic growth, whereas social capital does not.

Building the Creative Community

Cities need a people climate even more than they need a business climate.  Several forces have combined to bring people and economic activity to urban areas: cities are safer and cleaner; cities are the prime location of the creative lifestyle; cities are benefiting from demographic shifts; and cities are incubators of innovation.  An effective people climate needs to emphasize openness and diversity, and to help reinforce low barriers to entry.  Truly Creative Communities appeal to many different groups.

The Creative Class Grows Up

The members of the Creative Class today, according to Florida, need to see that their economic function makes them the only possible leaders of twenty-first-century society.  Unless we design new forms of civic involvement appropriate to our times, we will be left with a substantial void in our society and politics that will ultimately limit our ability to achieve economic growth and rising living standards.  Florida makes a call for the Creative Class to grow up; to focus less on our individual selves, and more on developing a responsible, motivated, shared vision which reflects the very principles of the Creative Age.  He asserts three fundamental issues to address: investing in creativity; overcoming the class divides; and building new forms of social cohesion.  In the end we must consider how we want to direct our creativity.  What kind of life – what kind of society do we want for ourselves, and for future generations?

I find it difficult to find points of contention with this work.  Richard Florida does not veer far from his thorough investigative research.  I would, however, like to share a few of my experiences to echo some of the content here.
I currently live in a small city in Maryland about 70 miles from both Baltimore and DC.  I originally moved here in part to run a non-profit art gallery.  Over the course of four years of living and working here, I came to discover that the City Government truly values the arts.  The main part of downtown has been designated as an arts and entertainment district.  Artists and arts centered establishments are offered incentives for locating themselves and doing business within these several blocks.  Seeing the value in the arts and understanding them are a bit different.  I feel the incentives offered are somewhat weak (tax breaks for artists, rather than say free studio spaces in abandoned buildings).  However, the arts organization I worked for works close with, and receives funding from the City.
Moving forward a bit, after my tenure as a Gallery Director, the Economic Development Director for the City quickly asked me to work in her department (there were three of us including myself).  Before I knew it I went from installing exhibitions to recruiting new businesses to the City.  If I hadn’t been in such a small city, I may have never seen what a close correlation creativity and economic development really have.

Additional Reading

Richard Florida and Martin Kenney, The Breakthrough Illusion. New York: Basic Books, 1990

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1969

Daniel Pink, Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Books, 2001

William H. White, Jr., The Organization Man.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956

Submitted by Eli Pollard

References/ Recommended Reading

No references for this section.