The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life by Richard Florida
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Carnegie Mellon University professor, Richard Florida provides an astute and extensively researched explanation of the massive cultural shifts in U.S. society over the last 30 years that have caused an entirely new social class to develop: the Creative Class. Numbering close to 40 million people, the creative class consists of workers whose intellectual energy is primarily applied to innovation, problem solving, and development of new products or services. A creative class member is distinguished from a working class or service class person by the fact that he or she has to figure out how to do something as opposed to just doing something that has already been figured out. The primary premise of Florida's book is that creative work brings the greatest economic benefit to society and distinct geographical regions with superior economic climates are forming around the creative workforce while leaving other areas stuck in the past and struggling to sustain their economies.
Creative workers occupy many fields like engineering, architecture, medicine, law, art, entertainment, design, media, education, and the sciences. Because the demands of creative work do not necessarily fit into a traditional regimented work day with precise start and stop times, employees have been needing and often getting flexible schedules, homier work environments, and lax dress codes. The growth of the creative workforce is also changing society. The recreational needs of creative workers are much different than shift workers of previous generations. Creative workers like individual sports like bicycling far more than team sports because they want to do something on their schedules, which are often erratic.
Creative workers deliver so much economic benefit to society because of the innovation that they are capable of producing. Whole new massive industries like personal computing emerged from passionate creative entrepreneurs. Creative workers can enable any business or industry to rise above its competitors by creating superior manufacturing systems, better management systems, better customer service, and of course brand new products that energize marketplaces.
Florida makes the point that the creative professionals of today are vastly different than the professionals of a few decades ago when the organizational model prevailed. During the organizational age, massive companies controlled their workforces with strict command and control models that eventually stifled innovation. However, the workers, if they towed the company line, could realistically expect lifetime employment and promotions as they climbed the corporate ladder. The ethos of the organizational age dissolved during the 1990s when companies across the board decided to downsize and outsource. Gone was the expectation of lifetime employment, and many workers, especially creative workers, quickly learned that loyalty to a company was a waste of time because they could get the sack at any moment regardless of doing good work. As a result, creative workers of all types have shown a great tendency, as documented by Florida's research, to congregate in regions that offer many job opportunities related to their chosen fields so they can find new jobs as necessary. Creative workers are also very finicky about where they live because they want to live in culturally stimulating environments with robust music scenes, theater, street festivals, and so forth. They also crave nice outdoor recreation areas like bike paths and green spaces as opposed to organized entertainments like theme parks. In fact, tasteless things like box stores and chain restaurants, which Florida labels generica, are anathema to creative workers.
Creative workers in general also crave tolerant societies in which to live. They need environments that easily welcome their quirky and often downright nerdy selves. This is why they tend to be attracted to enclaves of Bohemian style people like artists, writers, and musicians. Such tolerant areas, like the obvious example of San Francisco, almost always have strong gay communities too. Florida found a significant correlation between flourishing gay regions and the presence of creative economies. This was not because all gay people are creative, but gay people face a lot of discrimination and hatred and therefore congregate in tolerant regions. Therefore social tolerance was a leading indicator of a strong economic climate when compared to socially intolerant regions.
In addition to tolerance, creative economies also need access to technology, which is usually promoted by the presence of research universities. Talent was the final requirement for creating a strong creative economic region. Studies strongly showed that talented creative workers were likely to move to regions that had both tolerance and technologically innovative universities and companies. If one element was missing, then a break away creative economy could not come fully into bloom.
As a result, whole industries are starting to relocate to the robust centers of creative workforces so they can have talent pools from which to draw. Major examples of such regions cited by Florida were Austin, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle.
The author also seeks with this book to make creative workers conscious of their emerging and distinctive class. They have in general been very self absorbed, but Florida entreats them to play a more active role in the shaping of the country because the old school forces of the organizational age persist and tend to pursue ill-conceived and outdated projects that do not help the economy and sometimes even make it worse. The author basically harps on the wasted billions of dollars that governments and economic development corporations slather onto sports stadiums and shopping malls, which are proven to do nothing to enliven local economies. A successful economic future for the country is dependent on creative workers hauling the rest of the country into the twenty first century. Florida wants creative class members to push society toward a more creative model so that the vast untapped creative resources of people in other classes can be nourished instead of wasted. This would make people happier and improve the economy.
This book is tremendously well written. The author has an engaging style that is supported by abundant facts, statistics, and anecdotes. All creative workers should find that it rings very true with their personal experiences, beliefs, and tastes. I know it did for me. After reading this book, I consider myself enlightened to a reality that I felt but was not aware of intellectually or consciously. For anyone interested in understanding systemic problems with the U.S. economy and social trends, The Rise of the Creative Class is highly recommended and truly fascinating.
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