Friedman and Florida

I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago and had a chance to
read Richard Florida’s new book, The Flight of the Creative Class. I
consider it a kind of companion piece to Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat
(now a #1 best-seller) because Florida is talking, as is Friedman, about the role that well-educated
knowledge and idea producing people play in the US economy.

Friedman and Florida agree in some ways and differ in
others. Both see the category of people who earn their living by working with
information, ideas, data, design, invention and relationships and the
entrepreneurs and managers who mobilize them as the core of wealth generation
in any economy. Florida extends this catgegory a bit further than Friedman by
including artists, musicians, hair designers and similar creative typess. The message
of both authors is: 1) the people who
work with creative ideas and innovation are absolutely critical to the well
being of the US economy, and 2) we’re not doing a good job acquiring or
developing these people compared to some other parts of the world.

The authors, however, differ in emphasis and focus.
Friedman’s theme is that, particularly in the past five years, internet
technology and infrastructure growth have put large supplies of people in the crreative-class
category in other countries into the global labor market. They are smart, hard-working and hungry, i.e., they are willing and able to do work as good as or
better than Americans at a fraction of the cost. He claims that this situation is widely
understood by the top executives of major corporations and their perspective has become thoroughly global. Moreover, they have developed  business strategies to take advantage of that reality.To survive
in business today companies operate 24/7 tapping the best talent in the world
at the best price.

Friedman is a free-market, free-trade optimist and says this is a good thing for
the US if we acknowledge the new reality and operate in a way to work with it,
not against it. At the individual level, where you live doesn’t have much to do with whether or not you
can participate in wealth generation anymore; it’s whether you have the skills
and the insight to operate in the global context that counts.

Florida, on the other hand, is not so global in his
perspective. He is an urban economist, and his focus is more on US cities and
communities. He does not make as big a deal about the world-flattening technology
of the internet as Friedman does. Instead, Florida focuses on the conditions
that attract creative people and motivate them to generate prosperity in a
particular community. He says there are several factors that can make a
community a magnet for “the creative class,” and lack of them can undercut the economic potential of a community. The positive factors include diversity of people and
lifestyles, cultural facilities and events, and openness to ideas and to people
such as gays. He says there are three Ts behind a successful local creative economy:
technology, talent and tolerance.

Although Florida tends to see place as important and
Friedman suggests that place is almost irrelevant because talent resides in
many places and it can be utilized through world-spanning communication and
business systems, they both agree on one thing: intangible skills like
creativity, innovativeness, and flexibility are the premium qualities needed
for current and future quality of life. Whether you look at it from an
individual, community or corporate perspective, these are the attributes to
develop.

Okay, what are the implications for an individual plowing into a
career and trying to build a future? IMHO, you’ve got to take every opportunity you
can to exercise your creative and innovative ability. That doesn’t necessarily
mean take up mural painting, but it may mean investing yourself in executing
your job or your oversight of other talented people as innovatively as you can.
If you feel stuck and underutilized you’ve got to focus on how to change that.
If the job is stale and not offering learning and growth opportunities, then
get active to change it. If your talents and passion aren’t being given a
workout, then it’s time to get proactive about change.

The worst thing you can do these days is sit and vegetate. Don’t
accept a job description as graven in stone. Talk to the boss about ways to add
an innovative dimension to your job. If that’s rejected, it’s definitely time to
think about moving on.

Here in the Society, there’s another opportunity. The
Futuring and Innovation Center actually incents innovation with Springboard
grants. “Innovation” is its middle name, so to speak. Think big: the
Springboard program is looking for breakthrough ideas. Exercise your creativity
muscles. Come up with an idea that rocks and there is as much as a
cool $25K to back the hard part—making it real.

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