"History is a record of exploded ideas."
In the early 1900's America rose to become an economic superpower through the industrial revolution. The rise of the assembly line may best embody the movement as a whole. With technology and machines we were able to increase output and consistency dramatically. More widgets per dollar invested equalled more return per dollar invested. Next, as the 1900's came to a close, America found itself in full swing of the knowledge revolution. College degrees became the norm as education captured the competitive advantage. "The more you know," NBC declared to us. The smartest and most educated talent rose through the ranks. Want a promotion? Get an MBA. Knowledge had replaced the industrial mindset as the new way to win. We needed to create more widgets more efficiently in more effective organizational structures.
Things change fast these days, and we did not stay very long in the knowledge era. As we put the first decade of the twenty-first century in our review mirror, knowledge is no longer a significant competitive advantage around the world. In Germany, it is now free to attend their exceptional colleges. India continues to create very well educated students. Asia has long passed the US in their ability to educate youth. The world has caught up and mostly surpassed our education system. Creating lots of widgets more efficiently and effectively is not going to cut it.
Lucky for us, the success of America has not been any one particular thing. When we needed independence, we took it. When we needed to industrialize, we mastered it. When we needed to get smarter, we excelled. It is not the industrial revolution or the knowledge economy that has made us. American greatness is the ability to innovate and adapt, which is why we are in a new creative economy now. We are experiencing the rise of the creative class.
About 18 months ago Vanity Fair published an incredibly well-written article on the subject, exploring the parallels between the Great Depression and the recent economic challenges from which we are now emerging. The author, Joseph Stiglitz, writes: "The parallels between the story of the origin of the Great Depression and that of our Long Slump are strong. Back then we were moving from agriculture to manufacturing. Today we are moving from manufacturing to a service economy." Leadership and business expert Steve Denning writes similar sentiments but says the shift needed now is not to the service economy but to the creative economy.
CNN recently referenced "creative problem-solving" as one of the top 10 reason employers chose to hire a particular candidate. The recent IBM CEO study found that leading executive officers see creativity, innovation, and the ability to manage complexity, as the keys to success. Most large organizations still organize for short maximization of shareholder value, which is why return on capital invested has seen a steady decline. Denning writes, "Many firms are currently over-capitalized and yet unable to find productive uses for the money in a stagnant economy." Old levers of supply chain cost and feature additions are no longer enough. You cannot just buy innovation. Knowledge and money won the day in the late 90's but today the equation has expanded to include creativity.
Organizations today, large and small, both public and private, are desperate for creative thinking whether they realize it or not. Creatives can add new value by sensing patterns, understanding customers, assessing data trends, innovating industries, taking risks, and challenging norms. Creatives are naturally inclined to challenge the status quo, be comfortable with ambiguity, and invite disruption. These are the things our economy needs. It is not to say that production and knowledge are no longer relevant. Apple is not just a bunch of creative's with zero business sense. Apple wins because they are well educated; they have mastered engineering, updated manufacturing, innovated their supply chain, and they are insanely creative.
In this economy, the organizations that are smart will be looking for well-educated talent with a creative foundation. Companies need MBA's with a minor in studio art and business analysts that are great musicians. To be clear, this is not about a surge in "creative jobs". It is about the need for creativity within our jobs.