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The rise of the creative classes

By September 22, 2011 12 Comments

image I have just started reading The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida.  It was first published in 2002, making it a pretty old book by the standards of today’s fast changing world, but the central idea is still powerful today, and it is new to me. 

Having read the title you won’t be amazed to learn that the big idea is that the rise of the creative class is one of the defining characteristics of the modern era.  I am only part way through the book, but I’ve read enough to get the gist, and I think the notion that the creative class is increasing in size and importance helps us understand a lot about today’s society and helps us to predict what might happen next – e.g. the rise in individualism, more casual work practices and dress codes, and the rise of creative consumer habits like blogging. 

That said I think the rise of the creative classes is one of several trends that are defining the modern world and isn’t as central as Florida would have us believe.  Other important trends include the increasing pace of technological development and the increase in living standards. 

Time for a definition – the creative classes include anyone who is creative in their work.  That ranges from musicians and artists, to architects, to architects of new financial instruments to scientists, to teachers and, of course, to entrepreneurs.  That adds up to a lot of people – 38m in the US in 2002 by Florida’s estimate, which was 30% of the workforce.

There are two other big groups in society are the working class and the service class – and the most important difference between them and the creative class is that workers in the working and service classes are hired primarily to execute somebody else’s plan, rather than to create something of their own.

I think the concept of the creative class has power because it helps explain the rise and possible future direction of the following phenomena:

  • The emergence of new technology clusters – all creatives, including entrepreneurs, need hang out with others in order to do the best work, and so creatives of different types congregate in hot spots for their activity.  For tech entrepreneurs that is Silicon Valley and to a lesser (but increasing) extent London, New York, Berlin and Tel Aviv.
  • The success of a plethora of web services that facilitate the expression of creativity – Tumblr is perhaps the latest to really take off
  • An increasing desire to balance quality of life with monetary rewards
  • The rise in individualism – creativity comes from individuals, not systems (although putting the right structures in place can help foster creativity, ref the rise in nice offices with ping pong and free fruit..)
  • The rise of the experience economy – creativity is fuelled by stimulation of the senses

These five are the product of a relatively small amount of thought, and the full list would be much longer.

It is not all good news though.  I suspect the rise in individualism is partly responsible for the rise in inequality.  As society places an increasing premium on people like Steve Jobs with their ability to deliver big change through creative genius then those people will command bigger packages, as will the next level down, and even the people who step up to the plate and fail.

A stress on creativity is also at odds with many of the traditional structures in society which evolved to support a very different type of worker.  I am thinking of institutions like the family, the welfare state, and the church whose upheaval over the last twenty years can be understood as a consequence of the rising importance of the creative creative class.

Big shifts like this have huge implications in both commerce and politics, but for me the important thing is to realise that whatever your view as to whether it is good or bad, it is a powerful trend and one that will continue.  That is the context in which we should seek to optimise our commercial and political operations.

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