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The Rise of the Creative Class

Rise_of_the_creative_classI originally picked up Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class thinking it would be a good business read - particularly with the subtitle, How it's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. While the book proved to be more academic than I'd planned (re: multiple charts and graphs of population statistics and research findings), Florida did peak my interest with his theories on the Creative Class and how it has affected the economy, society and class structures.

Florida's tome was inspired by his work in urban planning...specifically, in trying to understand why once-successful cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit struggle to regain their past glories despite numerous attempts at improvement. The answer lies in the rise of the Creative Class, which values investments in R&D, the arts, and education rather than sports stadiums and strip malls.

Florida asserts that creativity has emerged as the single most important source of economic growth. The Creative Class behind this growth values individuality, meritocracy and diversity; creative communities take root and thrive when 3 things are present: technology, talent and tolerance. That is why communities like Cambridge, MA, and Silicon Valley have experienced boom times in recent years. Florida recounts social constructs throughout the years, like the bourgeoisie of the 50s that favored hard work, the bohemians of the 60s and 70s which favored play, and today's Creatives who recognize that life is an elusive mix of work and play. Creativity can not be turned on and off, and is not limited to the hours between 9 and 5. Thus we've seen more relaxed work environments and flexible working hours.

He quotes Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel: "Today, people are increasingly concerned with what life is all about. That was not true for the ordinary individual in 1885 when nearly the whole day was devoted to earning the food, clothing, and shelter needed to sustain life." (p. 82) Homo Creativus is more tolerant and more liberal because material conditions allow it and social conditions demand it. Today, the content of the job and nature of work environment matter more than compensation; money alone does not motivate - it's important, but so is:

  • challenge and responsibility
  • flexibility
  • stable work environment
  • professional development
  • stimulating colleagues and managers

People don't stay tied to companies anymore. Instead of moving up through the ranks of one organization, they move laterally from one organization to another in search of what they want (or as Florida writes, "The playing field is horizaontal and people are always on the roll." (P. 104) Much of this can be attributed to the layoffs in the '90s which broke the social contract between employers and employees: it is no longer enough that you do a good job to stay employed. In fact, at the time of the book's publication in 2002, Americans changed jobs every 3.5 years - and that figure was trending downward. It hearkens back to the Young Experimenting Perfection Seekers I noted in a recent post about Sally Hogshead's Radical Careering.

Overall, The Rise of the Creative Class was a really interesting - if long - read; it documents a lot of principles to which my generation can relate.

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