Stay Strange: The Rise of the Creative Class.



I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately–strangeness, oddness, weirdly types of folks get up and do the 9 to 5 every day, hob knob with their office pals, punch the clock and then go home.  And go home with a head full of amazing, creative ideas–ideas that, by and large, may not find purchase in their organizations.  Ideas that may not look great on spreadsheets or power point decks.  But ideas that MAY become catalysts for other ideas that MAY spark extraordinarily valuable revolutions in their companies.  These days the biz-speak world calls these people The Creatives.  Specialists in fields that appear at a superficial blush to be little related to the ‘hard’ issues.  Design, copy, marketing, social media, and on and on.  The folks that work these jobs are less likely to make it to the board room or the fabled C-Suite.  Yet these Creatives are also the ones that, with enough intensity, have been Revolutionaries in their own right.  Jack Dorsey, speaking at Disrupt 2012 this year, called it correctly in saying that ‘Disrupt’ wasn’t the right name for the convention any more than an earthquake is a welcome event.  Instead, he suggested that ‘Revolution’ was more suited to what the Silicon Valley intelligentsia were striving to accomplish.  In fact, I’m beginning to think that disruption in many ways happens at the middle manager level the moment at which said manager (corporate survivor) finishes the latest guru novel and decides to go “deep ocean” on everyone.  She reads about a new metric on Twitter and turns it in to the flavor of the month.  “Out with the old and in with the new” becomes a mechanism for job security rather than intellectual contribution.  That middle, highly disposable sector of a business–management–is more often than not the segment institutionalizing Barnes & Noble disruption.  Not revolution.  And certainly not Creativity.  Those belong to others.

I was speaking in New Jersey last week to an audience of Service Technicians.  Awesome guys.  Hilarious, down to earth, and full of incredibly creative ideas as to how to be more effective at their jobs, how to improve customer service, and how to move their companies forward.  By and large these guys weren’t trained business men.  I don’t think any of us, myself included, are hanging MBA’s on our walls.  But they all gave enough of a damn to spend three days with me and learn.  That’s saying something.  And as much as I’d like to pat myself on the bad and say “good on ‘ya Matt” one thing was really clear at the end of the session: Most felt their ideas didn’t have a place in their respective companies.  After a jolt of enthusiasm I heard “I love this, and this is how I’d do it, but the owner won’t listen…”  The owner won’t listen.  To his or her staff.  To the people he or she pays to do their job really well??  Such is the rub: Creative ideas are murdered by plodding managers and myopic managers.  Or worse, by company cultures that are intolerant of a person’s thinking because they’re not perceived to be vital to “strategy” or “execution” or any other half-baked militaristic nonsense.

The era of the singular business “visionary” is over.  The era of the Creative Revolutionary is beginning to occur.  Even the Ahab-ian Design God Steve Jobs observed:  

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

And it’s the understanding and tolerance of this stated creative ambiguity that propelled Apple to such great heights.  We’re in an experience economy that, yes, has a traditionally linear arc.  But that arc is starting to feel more like lattice work than a point plotted on an X/Y axis.  The Creatives inherently feel this.  Communicating deeper levels of interconnection, causality, beauty, and tone and design and experience into business language may not be easy.  But excluding it from serious conversations will be a mistake.  Dorsey knows it.  Jobs knew it.  The Creatives are our Daily Founders.  They are our sources of regular re-invention.  They are business’ undiscovered country.  Time to rename the C-Suite.  


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