POLITICS & INSTITUTIONS - ECONOMY

All hail the creative economy



Richard Florida: “Simply put, creativity is organic. You can’t plan for it.” (Photo: Creative Class group)

Richard Florida: “Simply put, creativity is organic. You can’t plan for it.” (Photo: Creative Class group)

The launch last week of the Creative Industries Cluster is excuse enough to republish this interview with Richard Florida, one of the world’s leading public intellectuals and the author of two influential books, “The Rise of the Creative Class” and “The Flight of the Creative Class”. The interview was first published in “Nico”, a Maison Moderne publication, in 2008.

Andrew Losowsky: Briefly put, what is the creative class?

Richard Florida: The creative class describes a group of creative and knowledge professionals--those engaged in arts, design, innovation, and so forth--that drive economic development.

Specifically, the creative class includes two segments of workers. Firstly, the creative professionals: These professionals are the classic knowledge-based workers and include those working healthcare, business and finance, the legal sector, and education.

Secondly, there’s the super-creative core: These workers include scientists, engineers, techies, innovators, and researchers, as well as artists, designers, writers and musicians. Worldwide there are approximately 150 million creative types--40 million in the U.S. alone. The creative class is the core force of economic growth in our future economy.

 

AL: How do you define “creativity”? Is what we understand as “creativity” treated differently in other cultures?

RF: Creativity is easily recognised in the arts and sciences: a great symphony, a poignant artwork; problem-solving software; disease-fighting biotechnology. But creativity can be more modest.  By examining the manufacturing process, I learned that companies get the largest returns for incremental innovation, not brand-new, revolutionary products. A company’s incremental innovation fosters continuous improvement. This type of creativity opens the way for Toyota, for instance, to make durable cars. On the flip side of creativity, California’s Silicon Valley is a fabulous example for breakthrough creativity.

Simply put, creativity is organic. You can’t plan for it. You can only allow it room and freedom to grow--something that many leaders fail to do in their pursuit of maintaining the status quo.

 

AL: What are the key areas that politicians should focus on in order to gain the benefits of this creative class?

RF: The creative class is looking cities, regions, and countries that offer them the most opportunity and best reflect their values. The 3T approach--technology, talent, and tolerance--represents a comprehensive strategy for organisations, cities, regions and countries to compete and prosper in the creative age.

Talent: The driving force behind any effective economic strategy is talented people. We live a more mobile age than ever before. People, especially top creative talent, move around a lot. A community’s ability to attract and retain top talent is the defining issue of the creative age.

Technology: Technology and innovation are critical components of a community or organisation’s ability to drive economic growth. To be successful, communities and organisations must have the avenues for transferring research, ideas, and innovation into marketable and sustainable products. Universities are paramount to this, and provide a key hub institution of the creative age in each city.

Tolerance: Economic prosperity relies on cultural, entrepreneurial, civic, scientific, and artistic creativity. Creative workers with these talents need communities, organisations, and peers that are open to new ideas and different people. Places receptive to immigration, alternative lifestyles, and new views on social status and power structures will benefit significantly in the creative age. Some people complain that tolerance is too benign of a term. In “Flight of the Creative Class”, I define it as proactive inclusion.

For countries to fully compete in the global creative age, the full compliment of the 3Ts must be present.

 

AL: How are our ideas of place and location changing?

RF: If you’re thinking about the global economy and its impact on the creative class in Europe, America, and around the world, you have to mention the mega-region. The global economy takes shape around them. It used to be the region, many hundreds of years ago. Then it was the nation state, and in modern times, the corporation. This is a topic I cover extensively in my upcoming book, “Who’s Your City?”

The mega region is taking shape in the great urban centres of the world. What we previously thought of as cities, and then as regions, are now joining together in chains of regions, integrated economic areas whose scale dwarfs the economic units of the past. There are a few dozen mega-regions that more or less drive the world economy. Many of the geographic areas outside of these regions are quickly slipping away in terms of economic competitiveness. Today, more than ever before, these regions (and mega regions) are becoming more specialised in economic output. Place is the economic organising unit.

The economic organising unit has again come full circle; as the mega-region becomes the nexus around which all other economic factors rotate. Firms specialise in making things better. Places that engender diversity and innovate are the ones which drive economic growth. It no longer makes sense to talk just about business competitiveness or the wealth of nations. The key lies in the wealth of place. Some people say that technology has made the world flat. I argue that it is spiky.

 

AL: In your book “The Flight of the Creative Class”, you say that “The great challenge of our time will be to spark and stoke the creative furnace inside every human being”. Is all creativity useful and productive? If it is only for our own personal wellbeing, does that spur the economic benefits you talk about? Is everyone’s creativity useful/helpful/of sufficient quality to make a difference?

RF: Every single human being is creative. Economic growth is driven by creativity, so if we want to increase it, we have to tap into the creativity of everyone. For the first time in human history, the basic logic of our economy dictates that further economic development requires the further development and use of human creative capabilities. The great challenge of our time is to find ways to tap into every human being’s creativity.

 

AL: You mention in your two most prominent books that the creative class effect is an unequal one--that freedom to be creative is most prominent in those from wealthier backgrounds, and that it can perpetuate inequalities. Can anything be done to arrest that?

RF: We must upgrade the service sector. Service sector jobs such as those in lawn care, home care, housing remodelling, personal service, massage therapy, cosmetology, and hair cutting are growing rapidly. These jobs are the “port-of entry” into the creative age and make up a significant portion of the economy.

We have to offer these workers competitive wages, benefits and training. Starbucks’ success shows that it can be done; the company invested in their workers and is now one of the most recognisable brands in the world. Other companies such as Ikea, H&M, Whole Foods [an American supermarket], and the Container Store [an American homeware store] are providing higher wages and better benefits for service workers. We need to upgrade wages, working conditions and creativity in service work.

No longer is inequality just in material goods. It means using all of our talents. People today want to use their full talents, to self-express and self-actualise. The ability for each and every one of us to use our talents, be ourselves and realise our dreams is the key to building a more equal, inclusive and thriving society.