GTC 2006 Tuesday in Austin included a special Executive Leadership Institute featuring a keynote address by W. Michael Cox, senior vice president and chief economist of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Cox, speaking on the very day that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan retired, presented an upbeat assessment of the nation's transition from the Information Age to the Age of Creativity and Innovation.

W. Michael Cox
Cox got a laugh when he said productivity fell after the introduction of the computer, with lots of people goofing off with technology, but he went on to say that the same drop in productivity occurred after the introduction of electricity. An economy takes some time to organize itself around new technologies, he explained, and now the economy is growing at three times the rate of the pre-computer era.

Today, income -- no longer dependent of physical strength -- is peaking later in life, and is dependent on education. Intellectual capital has replaced muscle, steam and internal combustion engines. Information is free on the Internet, and encyclopedia sales are plummeting.

Cox compared other transitions -- from agrarian to industrial for example -- with the current transition, and presented some reassurance in the big picture, even if there are fears in the short term of competition with China, India and other countries. In India, for example, Cox said 25 million people graduate from colleges each year, who are willing to work for lower wages than US workers.

As secretaries, receptionists, bookkeepers, tax preparers and encyclopedia salespersons are replaced by technology or their jobs are outsourced to other countries, the age of Imagination and Creativity is appearing. Microsoft, Amazon.com, Google, Dell Computers, he said, are the products of imagination and creativity and new ideas about how to do things.

Ironically, Cox recommended a personal regimen of shutting off the cell phones and Blackberries, and getting away to think and plan, as the road to better imagination and creative effort.

Cox joked that now that Greenspan can't fire him, he would reveal that the fed chairman spend three hours a night in the bathtub, thinking and writing. We all need to make time and place to be creative, Cox said. In this new age, he said, the United States has many advantages in being a multicultural society with opportunity for all, and a very high rate of education. We are also deeper into the service economy than most other countries, he said.

Following his keynote presentation, Cox participated in a wide-ranging panel discussion moderated by Ann Fuelberg, executive director of the Employees Retirement System of Texas. Panel members -- which included Michael Cook of Citrix, Robert Cook of the Texas Parks and Wildlife, and Bradley L. Westpfahl of IBM, tackled outsourcing, education, workforce issues and the new crop of government employees.

Wayne Hanson  |  Editor