Economy as we know it is being eclipsed by something new — call it the
Creativity Economy. Even as policymakers and pundits wring their hands
over the outsourcing of engineering, software writing, accounting, and
myriad other high-tech, high-end service jobs — not to mention the
move of manufacturing to Asia — U.S. companies are evolving to the
next level of economic activity.
What was once central to corporations — price, quality, and much of
the left-brain, digitized analytical work associated with knowledge —
is fast being shipped off to lower-paid, highly trained Chinese and
Indians, as well as Hungarians, Czechs, and Russians. Increasingly, the
new core competence is creativity — the right-brain stuff that smart
companies are now harnessing to generate top-line growth. The game is
changing. It isn’t just about math and science anymore. It’s about
creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation.
unfolding is the commoditization of knowledge. We have seen global forces
undermine autos, electronics, and other manufacturing, but the Knowledge
Economy was expected to last forever and play to America’s strengths: great
universities, terrific labs, smart immigrants, an entrepreneurial business
Oops. It turns out there are a growing number of really
smart engineers and scientists "out there," too. They’ve learned to
make assembly lines run efficiently, whether they turn out cars or code,
refrigerators or legal briefs. So U.S. companies are moving on to creating
consumer experiences, not just products; reconceiving entire brand categories,
not merely adding a few more colors; and, above all, innovating in new and
While everyone was in a tizzy a year or so ago about
outsourcing business leaders said “not to worry,” all the US economy needed to
do was innovate itself out of competition from low cost labor. They said it,
and now evidently some are taking it seriously and doing something about it,
Does this apply to nonprofits and, specifically, the Society?
You bet. The Futuring and Innovation Center is a great thing, and the
Springboard program offers the resources to develop something for those who
want to try. But, overall, innovation is not a major direction of the
organization. Indeed, we have been striving mightily for the past 5 or more
years to achieve uniform, standard programs and practices at a certain level of
quality nationwide. That’s good Knowledge Economy practice. We pride ourselves
in having knocked off most of the variable practices we had before. (No more
chili cook-offs.) So becoming a continuously innovating organization—Creative
Economy—would be quite a departure from the current culture.
Why would we want to become more innovative?
Because, IMHO, our constituents will expect it. If US society orients itself
more to the Creative Economy, customers will become accustomed to having a
great variety of options for how and where they get their support. Already when
I look outside the Society I see innovation going on in the greater cancer
control and health services sectors (see Sarah Goodwin’s post on the Revolutions Health Care agency).
But, one of the messages I get from the Business Week
article is that, to earn a living from here on out, improving your innovation
chops is an absolute necessity. The creativity/innovation thing starts with the
individual. Being able to do or manage design and creativity is going to be a
critical skill no matter where you work. Commodity skills are not going to
fetch much. Take it upon yourself to get your head into innovation and get your
job to accommodate that. Oh yeah, and plug into the creative juices of the
internet’s trans-national culture.