Monday, October 25, 2010

Exit the "Knowledge Economy"...Enter the "Creative Economy"

I recently heard Gary Hamel speak at the Ross School of Business (University of Michigan) in Ann Arbor.  I had never heard of Gary before walking into the auditorium, and after listening to him for 45 minutes, I wanted to know everything about him.  This guy is good! (

I took some interesting notes during his talk.  Gary is an expert corporate strategist who specializes in the topic of management, specifically how to "reinvent" management.  The point that resonated most with me was a slide he posted called "Gary's Hierarchy:"

Essentially, Gary argues that intelligence is pretty much par for the course in today's economy and the real way to differentiate is through creative ability.  You can outsource all of the technical skills we were told would take us deep into the 21st century (programming, engineering, finance, etc.).  He believes that business is more turbulent today and companies are not able to mitigate the turbulence fast enough.  Modern management styles are no longer modern (most taught management styles are from the beginning of the 20th century). Couple this with a faster business cycle and you too may see the need for more agility and creativity from leadership.

Listening to Gary, I immediately took pity on the millions of Americans who are making one of the various paths through higher education their own.  It seems like an all too common solution for the current recession we are in is to go back to school...and universities know this so school is not getting cheaper anytime soon.  Is all of the money spent on tuition to get a certificate and get "smart" worth it when the more applicable skills come from unlocking creative ability?


  1. Intellect, and thus knowledge, can never be classified as a commodity, as it is possible for one to possess knowledge without creativity, yet it is impossible for one to possess creativity without knowledge. A foundation of knowledge is a requirement in every field of endeavor, laying a basis for creative thought to spring forth. Frequently, creativity comes not from singular thought about a specific subject, but possessing great knowledge of two subjects and making a connection, or bridge between them. An example of this bridging form of creativity is found in the case of Apple Computer. As the former CEO of Apple, John Sculley states regarding Steve Jobs in the 1980s:

    "Steve had this perspective that always started with the user's experience; and that industrial design was an incredibly important part of that user impression. He recruited me to Apple because he believed the computer was eventually going to become a consumer product. That was an outrageous idea back in the early 1980s. He felt the computer was going to change the world, and it was going to become what he called 'the bicycle for the mind'." (Bloomberg BuisnessWeek)

    This was a radical departure from the prevailing design philosophy of the dominant PC market, with manufacturers focusing on memory capacity, computing power, and speed with little regard for the humans manipulating the devices. Apple was different, practically predicting the commoditization of computer hardware and instead focusing on branding and usability. Seeing the personal computer (and later peripheral devices such as music players and phones) as a consumer product and marketing them as such is an example of this bridging creativity at its finest. However, these connections can only be made with intimate knowledge of the personal computer market and the consumer product market. This was the essence of Jobs’ genius, as he possessed extensive knowledge of both worlds and was able to make a connection between the two. In this way, creativity is an outgrowth of knowledge, not a separate entity that can exist on its’ own.

  2. Knowledge has become standardized in terms of what is taught in university curriculum and often times what is read and debated by the majority of the business community. The issue which is the key here is that the certificates for lack of a better example, and therefore knowledge gained from achieving one, has become commoditized to an extent. True innovation/creativity and the will to jump off the cliff (the cliff being the safety of continually implementing/massaging/expanding what is known, i.e the knowledge gained thru conventional means) is what drives the next level of growth. This is not a new concept, but what is new in today’s world is that the status quo has been raised and become the norm over time – just as the assembly line was once innovative and is now the status quo for industrial production.

    In the above comment I think we agree that creativity can best be achieved thru someone with knowledge. Yet if one is never put inside the box, is it not plausible that thinking outside of it may be easier?

    In my experience I have come across many intelligent and knowledgeable people whom I certainly respect. In the same vain I can count on one hand the people that have truly blown my hair back over the years, people who have come up with numerous conversation lines that kept me up at night and thinking for days. “Commoditized” is a harsh word for those with knowledge, but as has been the case in modern business for decades, it has been those with creativity and will that drive innovation and growth. The common worker has simply become more knowledgeable over time and set a new baseline, a higher cliff to climb, from which to jump.