Canaries of the Creative Economy

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In his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, economist Richard Florida described the emergence of a social group whose economic contribution was one of ideas. This “Creative Class” was populated not just by scientists, engineers, architects, and educators, but also designers, artists, musicians, and entertainers. Furthermore, this group has developed in cities (or metropolitan areas) the best of which have become cauldrons of technological innovation, attracting even more creative talent and creative enterprise to these places. Examples: San Jose (Silicon Valley); New York; Washington, DC; Seattle; Austin; Boston/Cambridge.

So far so good. But then Florida went on to assert that the metros that are most effective at attracting creative types are the ones most tolerant, inclusive, and open to diversity—which includes an acceptance of immigrants, “bohemians” (artists, writers, actors, musicians, dancers, etc.) and gays. He showed studies that correlated high bohemian and gay populations with strong high-tech industry concentrations, meaning that the former was a leading indicator of the latter. (In other words, a place open to bohemians and gays accepts all kinds of people—which is an attractor for the Creative Class, including the technologically creative.)

But reaction to Forida’s thesis—which was developed and expanded in his later books—has been near hysteria in some quarters.

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Whole lotta shakin' goin' on

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This month marks an obscure but important rock & roll anniversary. 55 years ago (5/3/58, to be exact) Alan Freed’s “Big Beat” tour—featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and others—rolled through my hometown. Unfortunately the show at the Boston Arena that night precipitated a “riot” (reportedly) in which several concert-goers were hospitalized. It was evidence to our cultural gatekeepers that “the devil’s music” was leading our youth down the road to perdition.

Combined with a series of other events in a 12-month period (including Buddy Holly's death in a plane crash, Elvis Presley's draft into the army, and Little Richard's show biz departure to become a preacher) this incident helped drive R&R underground for several years, until rock was finally resurrected by The Beatles and the “British Invasion.”

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Following up on a few things...

After recently posting some thoughts on the extroverted nature of Western society, I’ve been trying to reconcile the apparent contradiction of pop music stars displaying the classic traits of both introverts and extroverts.

Artists like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor, Prince, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, and more—were energized by their inner AND outer life. They seemed genuinely reflective (and very private) while feeding off popular adulation. They seemed to prefer solitude for composing (even Lennon did most of his writing without McCartney) and the largest public arena possible for performing.

A new study on what makes salespeople successful may shed light on this. Adam Grant of the Wharton School of Management, in a recent paper “Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal,” says it’s ambiverts who get it right:

Ambiverts achieve greater sales productivity than extraverts or introverts do. Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.

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The power of quiet

A few months ago I did a post on Susan Cain's best-seller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. After a preliminary scan of the book I was impressed by Cain's insight that our business organizations—not to mention our society in general—tend to be extrovert-centric, often devaluing the quiet and reflective contributions of the more introverted among us. But now after reading all 368 pages of the book, I'm convinced the problem is more deeply rooted in our system than I realized.

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Cain cites the Harvard B School as an institution emblematic of the “Extrovert Ideal.” There, as in many business schools, the emphasis is on social interaction, group activities, speaking with conviction, thinking on your feet, selling your ideas, projecting certainty. Students who talk “often and forcefully” are rewarded with good grades. Those who hang back and deliberate are not. This, the author argues, occurs against a broad societal backdrop in which we see “talkers as leaders.” But numerous studies she cites detonate that assumption.

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Go your own way?

One band that has long showcased the value of managing differences and capitalizing on conflict—a key differentiator of successful business teams—is Fleetwood Mac, especially the 2.0 version that began with the addition of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in 1975.

The eclectic combination of singer-songwriters Nicks, Buckingham, and Christine McVie—supported by the robust rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie—was well captured on their first album together (simply titled Fleetwood Mac) which yielded hit singles “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me,” and “Rhiannon.” What had been a quasi-successful British blues band (featuring virtuosi guitar players) was quickly transformed into a charismatic song-oriented LA pop/rock phenomenon, thanks to saturated airplay of their LP in the US.

But behind the scenes the romantic partnership of Buckingham and Nicks had begun to unravel, as well as the marriage of Christine and John McVie—and even Mick Fleetwood’s marriage! (In fact, people just listening to their music began to report marital difficulties.) By the time the band recorded their next LP—Rumours—the song lyrics (and album title) told the whole story: “Players only love you when they’re playing”; “Shackin’ up is all you want to do”; “I’m just second hand news”; “Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.”

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