02:06 PM

Business Technology: Where The Skilled Folks Are

I'd like to suggest a book that will likely change the way you think about yourself, your career, your profession, your employer, and your future. I'm confident that even if you don't agree with some or even most of what the author contends, you'll still find it thought-provoking, stimulating, and well worth having read. The book is The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida. It's a vibrant and fast-paced romp that touches on economics, sociology, and psychology but is centered on some severely stress-tested data around which the author has fashioned a theory positing that personal creativity is the dominant force in today's economy and society. Florida, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Public Policy and Management and a frequent contributor to InformationWeek, treats the reader to a series of challenging new ideas--from The Creative Community to Creative Class Values to The Efficient Use of Leisure to his poignant and powerfully relevant recollections of childhood conversations with his father, a master craftsman at a manufacturer of eyeglass frames. Drawing on those memories and leaning on extensive research he and his team have recently completed, Florida argues in favor of the linkage of the "Three Ts": Technology, Talent, and Tolerance. "These qualities are important to high-tech workers and Creative Class people in general for a couple of reasons," he writes. "To begin with, many are immigrants or people moving from one region of the country to another. Many grew up being stereotyped as nerds; some have extreme habits and dress. All want places where they can fit in and live as they please without raising eyebrows."

I could imagine that some readers might think this a lot of pseudo-scientific claptrap. Well, consider this line from much earlier in the book from someone in an extremely influential position in the technology industry: "As Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina once told this nation's governors: 'Keep your tax incentives and highway interchanges; we will go where the highly skilled people are.'"

Amid the debates, the nuclear-plant owners are working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to wrestle with such questions as: What is the real vulnerability of nuclear plants? How does the industry deal with local laws that limit the use of weapons? What type of attack might terrorists mount and what size force would be needed to deal with it? ... David N. Orrik, a former Navy SEAL who runs such tests for the NRC, recently told a House Commerce subcommittee that in 81 tests the NRC has staged since 1991, attackers in 37 got to parts of the nuclear-power plant where a real act of sabotage could have led "in many cases to a probable radioactive release." He said the industry's 46% failure rate hadn't improved before Sept. 11. The tests were canceled after that date because they would have interfered with the high-alert status of the guards.

--The Wall Street Journal,
July 3, 2002

And where exactly are those skilled people, and why do they go there? The book offers plenty of research data that, depending on your outlook, either supports Florida's ideas or makes you want to rip your hair out. The book is not comfortable--not at all--for those who want things to stay pretty much the same, or who want some degree of mechanistic, low-change order and predictability in their lives. But from reading the book and having had plenty of conversations with the author, I feel his goal wasn't merely to act as provocateur; rather, Florida's research and experiences over the past decade have given him the foundation on which to build a new view of business reality that's of enormous import to businesses of all kinds as they think about strategies for hiring; selecting locations; evaluating, compensating, and motivating employees; establishing new organizational structures; developing new products and services; and preparing to compete in a business world that the author contends will be driven and dominated by this newly emergent Creative Class. That thinking is captured in these lines from the ends of two chapters:

"The deep and enduring changes of our age are not technological but social and cultural. They are thus harder to see, for they result from the gradual accumulation of small, incremental changes in our day-to-day lives. These changes have been building for decades and are only now coming to the fore. ... We are now living through another large-scale economic transformation, the creative transformation, the main contours of which I have already outlined. As we have seen, its roots can be traced to the 1940s and 1950s--many of its key systems arose in response to the creative limits of the organizational age--and it came to full bloom in the 1980s and 1990s. During this time, we have seen the emergence of new economic systems explicitly designed to foster and harness human creativity, and the emergence of a new social milieu that supports it. And it has given rise to a new dominant class, the topic to which I now turn."

An addition to your summer reading list? Let me know why or why not.

Bob Evans
[email protected]

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