Exercise you innovation muscles

In the July American Demographics (subscription needed) a guy named Andrew Zolli wrote a commentary about the changing opportunities that talented people will have in the emerging global economy. He chronicled transitions that occurred during the 20th century as the US economy moved from tangible commodities to product-driven commodities to a service-based economy. Now, says Zolli:

…we find ourselves on the verge of another shift — to an economy defined by creative output. Our economy has become increasingly intangible, and workers less connected to specific places. Global creatives, who’re at the vanguard of this trend, are more mobile, and increasingly “denationalized.”

Working on an assembly line 80 years ago, creativity might have been a liability; in tomorrow’s economy, invention and innovation will be paragon skills. Most of us won’t know, or care, how to do long division. That’s what Google is for.

It’s also quite likely that we’ll see more “rural urbanites” — creative workers who choose to live in far-flung locales, or who temporarily cluster into creative “nodes” and then disperse a few weeks or months later. Communities of all sorts will need to figure out how to speak to, attract and retain their share of this high-margin global talent pool — one that comes from around the world, not just from within the U.S. And they’ll be competing not just with other communities down the road, but with islands off the coast of Thailand, cafés in the bohemian quarters of Prague, and the lands of Middle Earth.

In a world with a massive, educated labor supply, commodity labor–manual or intellectual–will not be of great value. Those who do what millions of others have been trained to do will not command an upper-level position in the global economic hierarchy. It’s no time to fall into the dime-a-dozen category.

It seems to me the challenge for individuals—kids in school and people with careers ahead of them—will be to become prepared to offer something unique, to develop extraordinary talents. The same will be true of organizations and companies. Originality, innovation, and creativity will be the prized or, more to the point, paid well.

Zolli contends that US schools are not preparing kids well for these requirements. Well, neither are companies–but they should. If it will be of value to hire innovators, it will also be important to create the conditions under which employees develop and exercise their innovative proclivities. But most organizations—including ACS—are still built for stability: to offer a consistent, standardized products and services. We value reliable production and plenty of it.

That brings me to the Futuring and Innovation Center’s Springboard program. It offers support—financial and moral—to the innovative impulses of the Society’s employees. If you’re a person with a career ahead you, you ought to take advantage of every opportunity to develop your innovative talents. If your job has become routine, it’s really up to you to take initiative to get out of that situation. The FI Center’s Springboard program offers the opportunity to exercise your high-value creative muscles.

So have another look at Springboard. Think big. Springboard is looking for “breakthrough” ideas.