Today I spent a great day at the Emerging Issues Forum, where I’m proud to say my home state of North Carolina attracted some of the top business minds in the world (the Twitter stream is going crazy here). This morning featured two Dark Matter Matters all stars, Roger Martin and Tom Kelley (who I have written about previously here and here), but there was also an incredible lunch session where Charlie Rose interviewed husband and wife creative geniuses Nnenna Freelon (the 5-time Grammy nominated jazz vocalist) and Philip Freelon (architect extraordinaire), and plenty of other enlightening stuff.
The theme of the conference is Creativity, Inc., and from what I can tell from many of the attendee and host comments, the theme of this year’s event is very different than years past. But the undercurrent of many of the comments from this morning seemed to take a clear point of view on this theme.
My interpretation? For years the business world has been waging a war against creativity… and creativity is beginning to fight back.
It’s about damn time.
Roger Martin is one of the most eloquent speakers in the world on the need for change in business. Some key points from his talk today:
Martin talked about two types of industries– clustered industries (where much of the industry is in one part of the world, Silicon Valley for high tech being one good example) and distributed industries (where the industry is dispersed all over, hair salons and pizza places being two examples).
Martin’s research shows that clustered industries have a higher percentage of the creative class of workers. The average salary for a creative worker in a clustered industry? About $70,000 per year. But for a creative worker in a dispersed industry? Only about $56,500 a year. Pretty big difference.
So what does it mean? According to Martin, income disparities will continue to grow unless we can figure out what to do with routine jobs in dispersed industries.
He calls this one of the greatest policy challenges of the 21st century: How can we increase the percentage of creativity we use in all jobs? How can we make use of the whole human being in work environments?
I love this thought of us figuring out how to use the whole human being– how many jobs do we see that leave tons of creative potential on the table, at the expense of not only innovation, but also employee happiness? Too many, in my experience. And at all levels in business, from executive on down.
Last weekend I read a book that Jonathan Opp recommended called In-House Design in Practice. It’s a bible for people who work as part of an internal creative agency within a larger corporation, which is one of the key roles of our Brand Communications + Design group at Red Hat.
In some ways, this a self help book, maybe even a support group, for creative types. I learned many things about what others in internal agency roles go through, but if I was to sum it up, I’d say I learned that I am not alone. There are others out there operating in internal agencies at corporations all around the world, and they have the same issues and opportunities we have. While the book is focused on graphic design, many of the lessons apply to other internal agency roles– editorial, web, video, you name it.
The book starts with what the authors call a “jaded” definition of an in-house designer:
…a creative person who finds him- or herself–by choice or circumstance– in an alien world ruled by left-brain-thinkers who undervalue, misunderstand, and in general, do not take full advantage of the benefit design can bring to business.
Ok, I’m listening…
As a creative person lodged firmly in a business world, you are a unique character. It can be a lonely post, but you have exactly the same goal as the people who so often disrespect, misunderstand, or step all over your work; you all want the larger organization to succeed.
Yes! (maybe ratchet down the empathy a bit though, people.)
And then comes the key theme of the book:
Chances are… you are never going to transform those people into the same kind of creative person that you are. But you can transform yourself into the kind of businessperson who can very adeptly speak their language.
What a perfect way to start a book about creative work! With some humility.