Florida’s Concepts are Overloaded

Richard, I have tried to focus on more specific phrases like “bohemian self-expression” and “ethnic diversity” because they have more specific connotations. Unmodified, words like “expression,” “diversity,” “open,” and “creative” have so many associations that it is not clear that they refer to anything useful. You mention a person bored in her job, wanting more “creativity,” which you paraphrased to mean “more exciting, more fun and challenging,” and you infer she should live in an area containing street mimes, gay bars, and musicians, because they are also called “creative,” and I guess you consider them fun and exciting.

Correct me if I’m wrong, Ed, but aversion to such ambiguity induced sloppiness is probably what Ed had in mind when he proposed “Every time that Richard writes the word ‘creative’ he has to buy a round of drinks.”

The places you call “diverse” are not diverse along all dimensions (consider political ideology), all people “express” themselves, even if they choose to look and act like some other people, and the fact that hackers prefer long hair, casual clothes, and late hours does not make them more open-minded—they have a different culture, but a culture with limits and expectations that are as strong and clear as most other cultures’.

I agree that organizations can do more to encourage innovation, and that Teresa Amabile has some useful things to say about that. What I object to is your lumping all that under the broad label “creative,” together with every other association of that word, to conclude that one side in today’s culture wars is the main source of economic growth.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • In this month’s lead essay, Richard Florida, bestselling author of Rise of the Creative Class, argues that the old industrial era has given way to a new creative era. Science and technology, art and design, and culture and entertainment have superceded natural resources and industrial infrastructure as the key to economic success. Talent is now the key factor of production and winners in global economic competition will be those who can best deploy and attract it. However, the creative economy is a source of increasing inequality both within and between nations. Florida argues that the key to bridging the gap between the creative and service sectors is to harness the creativity of service sector workers to make their jobs both higher-paying and more satisfying.

Response Essays

  • In his reply to Florida’s lead essay, George Mason economist Robin Hanson argues that creativity matters less for economic growth and the future of work than Florida thinks. According to Hanson, Florida’s emphasis on creativity distracts us from the prospect of a truly revolutionary change to work and economy just over the horizon: rapidly exponential growth driven by smart machines. “An economy with intelligent machines could grow very rapidly indeed,” Hanson argues, “and induce rapidly falling human wages.” Will we be prepared if we’re busy making the Creative Class comfortable?

  • MIT economist Frank Levy agrees that creativity is more important than ever in a world where computers and foreign workers can do routine work less expensively than domestic workers. This shift, Levy says, requires better education in problem-solving. But education can only do so much. The gains from rising labor productivity are going largely to the wealthy, Levy argues. Unless policies and norms are reinstated that spread those gains more widely “all of the nation’s institutions will be at risk.”

  • While agreeing with much in Florida’s essay, UCLA economist Edward Leamer suggests that the key to understanding the future of work isn’t creativity, but talent. “Is a personal computer like a forklift or a microphone?” Leamer asks. Forklifts are forces for equality, washing out individual differences in ability. Microphones, on the other hand, amplify difference in ability and talent. If training cannot create talent, but can only enhance it, the gains to training will be highest for the talented, and it will not be possible to close the talent and wage gaps by offering more training to the less talented.