Perks Beyond the Espresso Bar

Question: How would you use crowdsourcing to develop the creative class?

Richard Florida: So, back to first principles.  Marx told us, in his most brilliant insight when he was talking about how classes form in the working class, all labor is inter-subjective.  Now, a big fancy term for saying, we all depend on one another, you can’t make anything without – and he talked about science, and scientists.  What do you do?  It’s dead labor and living labor, any scientist will tell you we stand on the shoulder of giants.  We stand on the shoulders of all those who came before us, and not only our team, and all of those around us.  Whether it’s factory production, whether it’s services, whether it’s agriculture, it’s inter-subjective, it’s team based. 

This whole idea that invention, finally we’re getting over this, that there’s a great genius, around the great genius was always a fabulous – Thomas Edison, the first person to really build a team in a lab of technicians and chemists, and machinists, that support his ideas, now we know that many people have these ideas.  So the wisdom of the crowd, crowd sourcing is key.  We have to tap – this is what Toyota told me.  I went to visit Toyota when I was studying manufacturing in about 1985.  And I went to their factory complex in Toyota City in Japan, and the guy told me, “Professor Florida, we’re going to beat the Big Three.”  This was 1985, 1986.  Why?  Do you think the key to success in your management in the west is the big shot CEO, Lee Iacocca, right?  With all the great ideas, ramming it though the bureaucracy, turn around man flanked by two MBA’s and a great research strategist.  He said, “We’re going to win because we have tens of thousands of people on the factory floor and back through our supply chain, the crowd, that’s going to harness this kind of energy.  We’re going to use their energy, their talent, these millions and millions of individuals.  So, the technology, I mean is this incredible tool now that we have.” 

And it’s funny that the questions are coming in from Twitter.  I mean, Twitter – I’ve always been fascinated by the internet, and I taught at Carnegie Mellon, I was an early adopter.  Nothing has fascinated me more than Twitter for the ability to harness other people’s information, but to get direct access to people I thought I could never talk to.  And so I think the technology provides another enabling infrastructure and I think the other thing, it not only enables us to tap into the wisdom of the crowd, it also enables individuals to mobilize resources.  So, you have almost the crowd at your disposal as an individual and as ideas become good they can mobilize people.  Both consumers and workers.  So, I think the technology is part – it’s almost like the railroad – the canal system was the technology of one era, the railroad was the technology and infrastructure of another era, the highway system, this thing, and it’s not just the internet.  This ability to use social media and mobilize intelligence.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  And just from a work point of view, my ability to collaborate and work with people, I don’t even remember, and I’m sure most of us, I don’t even remember how I could have worked before.  The efficiency gains, and the innovation gains are just so dramatic. 

Question: What problems can the creative class best solve within a company?

Richard Florida: Well, it’s funny, getting across those borders.  Not just staying in your lab, but going into the factory floor.  When I was thinking about the companies that have applied creative energy to products, to appliances, those kinds of things; taking it into services, agriculture, the development of new and better food products, the revolution of food chains, this whole Michael Pollen thing.  That’s what I think the real interesting problems are in society.  And then ultimately, I think the local. 

So, I think for companies to really realize how important their city, or their community is, and one of the things that I think creative people are very attuned to is how important their local environment – In Who’s Your City? I wrote this.  There are three big things that make us have a happy life.  One is the work we do, the challenging and exciting work, not money.  Money’s important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the challenging work we do and the way we get purpose from that.  Of course, it’s our social relationships, our families, but the love that’s in our life and personal relationships.  But the third piece that we always forget is the place we live is an important part of that.  So, I think for companies thinking a lot more, not only about the products they make, but the places where they’re based, and actively because the people – when I interviewed creative people, they said, I really love my work, but I’d actually like to spend more time not only at home, I’d like to spend more time making my place better.  I’d like to volunteer and be involved in boards, and all of this sort of thing. 

I think that’s another area.  And also in development of technology in development of products.  IBM and lots of companies are getting into smart cities.  Other companies are getting into green technology.  I think a big opportunity, creative opportunity, are actually how do you remake locations and make them not only more creative, but more sustainable.  So, that’s a couple of places at least to focus. 

Question: What can a company provide to attract the creative class and motivate them to engage their talents on its behalf? 

Richard Florida: Well, I think the mistake that cities or companies make, and I think sometimes in my name, so, “Oh my god, we put in a new arts district with the cool loft spaces is going to attract the creative class.”  The company says, “We outfitted, we created open space an open layout.  We got a great architect in here and we have new modern furniture and we have pinball machines and Jolt cola and an Espresso Bar and that’s going to do it.”  That’s cool, that’s cute.  But I think the real thing that people want is the ability to be themselves and self-express.  That’s really the key thing.  How does a company or a city figure out how to allow its people to be themselves, to self-express, to engage in projects that they find exciting, and channel that energy. 

So, it seems to me, that’s the core driver.  Everything else has to be tuned to that.  And for the members of the creative class, for those of us who have a lot of choice in what we do and where we do it.  I think what we’re really trying to find.  I’ve been looking at this with a fabulous young psychologist named Jason Renfrow.  Jason is at Cambridge and he was the first person like – one thing Jason figured out is that you didn’t have to do a personality assessment.  You could just look at somebody’s iPod play list and you could completely read their personality. 

What Jason and I have been looking at is the location of personality types.  And you know, there are five basic personality types, right?  There’s agreeable people, their conscience people, there’s extroverts, there’s emotionally stable, or neurotic people, then there’s these people called “open to experience.”  If you look at entrepreneurs, whether it’s Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, if you look at great artists or musicians, chances are they’re very, very high on this dimension called “open to experience.”  Open to experience get their charge in life by consuming new experiences, by understanding new experiences, and what we’re finding is that those people are highly mobile.  And it’s not like I say to myself.  I’m open to experience, I want to find an open to experience neighborhood, these people find some way, by hook or by crook, they leave their hometown and they find the places, whether that’s the San Francisco Bay area, or the Silicon Valley, or a part of ****, or Soho in New York, or wherever it is at the moment because these places shift, right.  They’re exciting for a moment and then they go down.  These open to experience people, what we find is they’re highly clustered in cities, highly clustered near the core of cities, and highly clustered in particular cities.  And so I think what they’re searching for is not just a great place with a  great scene and great Espresso Bars, and great loft flats, what they’re searching for is a place where they can be themselves, be surrounded by other experiential people and other things and that becomes the stimulus to their endeavors. 

Recorded on December 14, 2009

Companies need to provide something more than a cool work environment to attract the new creative class.

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