Published on 2012/08/16

Educating the New Professional Creatives - Part I

The 21st century belongs to the creatives, and higher education institutions must ensure their ongoing education programs are aimed toward inspiring ideas and inspiration. Photo by Peshkova.

The 21st century belongs to the creatives: the innovators. Some influential writers (Pink and Florida) have posited that the next economic age, which they call The Conceptual Age, is one in which creativity is the dominant skill and center of economic activity. Agricultural, industrial and other workers saw the rise of knowledge workers in the last fifty years to dominate our present economy; the next century will see the rise and dominance of creative workers or “creatives” according to Pink and Florida. We equate creatives and creativity in our case with innovators and innovation in all its forms and in all disciplines and areas of human activity.

Innovation is hard work. We have to teach future innovators the skills and knowledge of their new profession as innovators, including the difficulty of the innovation journey and how the process invokes powerful creative/destructive economic forces as demonstrated by Schumpeter. Incumbents will place all manner of roadblocks in the path of emerging innovations. The innovator must be aware of these forces and how to overcome them. It is important to educate the aspiring creatives on the forces arrayed against innovators and the promise of eventually prevailing. As the saying goes: forewarned is forearmed, and more innovators will succeed if we enable them to prevail by understanding the difficulties of the journey.

The innovator’s journey applies both to educators and their students. Educators, with assistance from institutions around them, will continue to innovate what and how they teach as they constantly seek improved ways to educate their students who need to become more creative as time goes on.

Richard Florida, in his book “The Rise of the Creative Class” [1], charts the growth in people who are paid principally to do creative work. He classifies scientists, engineers, artists, musicians, designers and knowledge-based professionals as the “creative class”. He claims that in 1900 fewer than 10% of all workers were doing creative work. After WWII he claims that 15% of Americans were doing creative work. By 1980, the number had risen to 20%. Today he observes a third of the workforce in developed countries is doing creative work. His research shows that nearly half of the current salary and wage income in the United States is accounted for by creative work, equal to the manufacturing and service sectors.

Florida goes on to posit the dilemma we find ourselves in as we build this creative society:

“The real challenge of our time is to complete the system we have given rise to – to build the broader creative society that can harness the creative energy we have unleashed and mitigate the turmoil and disruption it mitigates. That’s a very tall order. New kinds of social institutions and policies will be needed to complete the system and make it work well. We can’t know what these will look in advance. It will take a long time to figure this out. Adapting to the industrial age took long decades, with lots of give and take, lots of experiments that didn’t work.”

Daniel Pink in “A Whole New Mind” [2] supports and reinforces the concept of the Conceptual Age. He believes that the United States is leaving behind a world dominated by narrowly reductive and deeply analytical thinking. The age of the knowledge worker, the “well educated manipulator of information and deployer of expertise” in Pink’s own words, is in full swing. He sees that due to globalizing forces that transfer some white-collar work outside the US, a material abundance that deepens our non-material yearnings and powerful technologies eliminating certain kinds of work, we are entering the age animated by a new form of thinking. It is a new world where aptitude for high concept and high touch is highly prized. He defines high concept as capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistically, to craft narratives and combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new (read innovation). High touch he defines as the ability to empathize with others, understand the subtle yearnings, and interactions of human beings, and pursue beyond the everyday for new purpose and meaning; in other words, creativity.

If we visualize the corresponding economic ages for the past 400 years we see a continuum as one gives rise and is superseded by the other yet all coexist, as they must with each other still. The image below shows the flow of one age into the other. As farming dominated the seventeenth century we see the beginnings of the industrial revolution. As industry became the dominant economic engine in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, we see the rise of intelligent machines as the basis for the knowledge economy. As the knowledge and service economy came into full swing in the mid- and late twentieth century we begin to see the rise of a new economy based on innovation and creativity. Just as at the start of each of the earlier economies or ages the full understanding of how it would develop with all its ramifications was not entirely foreseen; today it is hard to grasp exactly how the creative economy will develop and flower.

We have enough indicators from observers such as Florida and Pink that it will be big and it will involve creativity and innovation at its core. We also see that the tools, techniques, methods and innovations in any one age were at first developed to make the work of the earlier economy easier, more productive, and more profitable. Advances in machinery benefited farming, advances in information technology benefited manufacturing and farming. And we are sure advances in creativity and innovation, the next dominant age, will benefit all three previous human economic activities.

What is more, the size of the economy seems to be expanding such that, even though the percentage of the economy today of a previous economic format is much smaller, the overall size of that activity is now is larger than ever before. We are probably doing more farming now than ever before although farming is a miniscule portion of the current US economy compared to the manufacturing or the service economies. Fifty years from now, in the midst of the creative age, we will see that although manufacturing will have shrunk to a smaller portion of the overall economy, we will be manufacturing more than ever before (and probably with fewer people involved in its production, like we did with farming).

If we accept the premise that the 21st Century belongs to the creatives and that the dominant form of economic activity at the end of the century will be innovation, then we must be ready to prepare more innovators.

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[1] Florida, RR. (2003), The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, Basic Books.

[2] Pink, D. (2005) A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, Riverhead Hardcover.

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