Wednesday, November 26, 2008

MediaGuardian Innovation Awards

A public service announcement: the entry deadline for the MediaGuardian Innovation Awards is next week. The awards are "open to innovative work carried out across any media or a number of media." The list of last year's winners is available here.

The awards ceremony will be in March. We'll discuss the winning innovations then.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Innovation During Recessions

The New York Times has a piece on innovation during recessions. The gist of the article is that business leaders are often tempted to cut innovation, particularly in bad economic climates. Managers see the short-term costs of innovation, while the long-term benefits (in terms of new revenue streams, new products, new practices, new customers, etc.) are uncertain. As a result, when managers tighten their belts, innovation is often the first thing to go.

But cutting back doesn’t have to mean a wholesale rejection of innovation. Rather, by embedding innovation throughout the organization, short-term necessities can be balanced against long-term goals. Call it the
Goldilocks Principle applied to innovation. And in some cases, tough times can actually spur innovation by forcing managers to re-examine their own assumptions. The companies that get it right will be well-positioned for success and growth once the economy recovers.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Creative Class

John Solow, an economist at the University of Iowa, recently published the Iowa Creativity Index, which studies the correlation between creativity and economic growth in Iowa’s 99 counties. Solow’s work is actually based on that of another economist, Richard Florida, who has spent a lot of time thinking about what he calls the “creative class.” I wasn’t familiar with the term, so I dug up Florida’s 2002 essay, “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

Florida never quite defines his “creative class,” but he describes it as “a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend.” As examples, he points to scientists, engineers, university professors, poets, novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers, architects, nonfiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, and analysts.

The central thesis consists of two points:
(1) The creative class is good for economic growth.
(2) Economic growth is concentrated in hip, urban places that attract the creative class, like San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle.

I don’t disagree with any particular point, but I can’t help but feel that “creative class” is something of a misnomer. In my mind, creative means innovative, but Florida means something altogether different. He uses creative in the sense of creating something.

Etymologically speaking, he’s certainly not wrong. But steelworkers create steel, and baristas create tasty coffee beverages. Are they any less creative (in Florida’s sense of the word) than professors and engineers?

Had Florida used the phrase “knowledge workers” or “college graduates,” I wouldn’t have blinked. But this research has more to do with economics, education, human capital, and social mobility than with creativity.