If America does capture the high ground in this latest effort to lead the world economy ... it will do so because the hearse is now at the back door of our current economic situation.
Most economists now seem to agree that the emerging so-called "creative and innovative" economy represents America's salvation. Given that "the world is flat" -- as author and New York Times
columnist Thomas Friedman has pointed out in a book by the same name -- this new thinking encourages America once again to do things it does best: "create and innovate."
"The game is changing, Business Week
magazine recently argued, "It isn't just about math and science anymore (Although those are surely important disciplines) It's about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation."
Apple Computer's iPod is often cited as an example of the kind of innovation most people are talking about. Providing easy, legal access to lots of songs (iTunes) was something no one had yet managed. It was not simply making a slick piece of hardware; it was the design of a whole system that made Apple the leader of the innovation economy.
Similarly, Business Week
points out it wasn't Edison's development of the light bulb that marked his genius and ensured his place in history, but his design of an entire system to produce and distribute electricity.
As we talk about the foreshadowing of a whole economy based upon creativity and innovation -- the dawn of the "Creative Age" as the Nomura Research Institute put it -- we are more acutely aware of the importance of reinventing our business strategies, our corporations, our communities, our schools, our housing and land-use policies and more. Nothing can remain the same if we are to survive, let alone succeed in this new global economy.
For example, Michael Porter in his book The Competitive Advantage of Nations
, first published in 1990, pointed out the importance of "economic clusters" -- "Geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers and associated institutions in a particular field that are present in a nation or region." Such clusters, he said, are central to survival in the wake of an uncertain global economy.
Today, corporations and the communities they serve must put themselves at the forefront of this sweeping change in the structure of the world in which we live and work. It is imperative that we begin in earnest to attract, retain and nurture the creative and innovative workforce we know we need; and in the process, create a new overlay of our land-use planning as well. Cities across the U.S. have to change the lenses in their cameras and their parochial thinking about "land use," the transformative value of technology and the urgent need to reinvent our schools.
We need to redesign our high school and college curricula in particular, to focus on preparing students for this new competition. While creative industries, according to the Americans for the Arts are defined as "arts-related," creativity and innovation are vital to the success of all businesses. And we need to focus more on training the next generation of leaders for the Creative Age.
The IIT Institute of Design
in Chicago, for example, reportedly has found a way to "bridge the chasm between business and design." It defines design as "a core methodology of innovation" and as such, it argues, represents the key to new inventions and innovation itself. Business schools across America are rethinking their curricula, too, as the Master of Fine Arts is as valued to business as the revered MBA.
Sadly, if America does capture the high ground in this latest effort to lead the world economy by being first in the demand for creativity and innovation, it will do so because the hearse is now at the back door of our current economic situation. We continue to lose the high paying jobs to outsourcing and off shoring which living in a "flat world" has fostered.
There is now no doubt that the industrial economy is giving way to the creative economy. Corporations and whole communities are at another crossroads. Attributes that made them ideal for the 20th century could cripple them in the 21st, so they will have to change dramatically.
Unless we awaken to the realities, our graduates will not find the work they want and need, the purchasing power of the average family will continue its downward spiral and the state of America's prowess in both the economic and political arena will be lost.
John M. Eger is the Van Deerlin Chair in Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University, and president of The World Foundation for Smart Communities