Exodus of the Creative Class

Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, has a new book out called The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent . In it he apparently argues that the current socio-political climate in the US is going to start to alienate the creative class and they will move to other countries.

I say apparently because I haven’t read the book, but rather an interview with Florida on the Salon website. I am not sure I totally agree with him, but it might be because I read his entire argument a year ago in an article he did for the Washington Monthly. I have the same reservations I had in an entry a year ago.

While I would love to get a job in Wellington and am not such a model of American consumerism that I couldn’t get along just fine without whatever we got that they don’t, I just don’t see myself moving to New Zealand any time soon. (Of course, I never really saw myself moving to Hawaii either.) Nor do I see too many of the best and brightest I know doing so either.

My feelings were echoed last month by Karrie Jacobs in a Metropolis Magazine article, Why I Don’t Love Richard Florida. Like me, Ms. Jacobs doesn’t actually dislike Richard Florida, just the cult that has sprung up around him. She observes that the group he calls the creative class is the same cohort that was called yuppies in the 80s. Young successful cool people are going to want to live in cool neighborhoods no matter what the era.

Florida doesn’t tell anyone anything new by telling them these are the folks you want to attract. Actually, since he touts tolerance of ethnic and sexual differences as necessarily elements of successful creative communities, he is helping the social and economic mobility of a wider range of people than just rebranding yuppies (who you must admit were mostly caucasian).

I also don’t fault him for writing a book that collects easily observable trends and proposes the shaping of policy based on them. One of the things I have noticed in the last 10-15 years is that things that seem to obvious to mention aren’t necessarily so. People who give voice to these observations tend to get labeled geniuses. It’s happened to me much to my incredulous bemusement. I was just too embarassed to exploit the opportunity.

And who can fault him for letting people give him money to give speeches on the subject. I think what Ms. Jacobs and I have both been aiming at is not to let one person’s vision fill your entire horizon.

Light Block Engine That Could

Some of you might be a little tired of me hailing blogs as the next big thing (and if you have been reading me long enough to have noticed the trend, it just goes to prove the point.) But I was reading a story that has some good lessons/thoughts about executing blogs as a business tool.

Business 2.0 had a story about how General Motors got in to blogging. It was very interesting to me to see that the company that used to be the biggest employer in the US (Remember “What’s good for GM is good for America?”)took a very low profile approach to starting a blog. They started with a blog on the niche subject of small block engines in October, assessed the success of that project and opened another blog (Fast Lane) on a wider scale.

“People were already talking about us all over the Internet,” Wiley explains. “This blog was an attempt to get GM more involved in the dialogue and to get people talking to us. We see this as a direct line to enthusiasts, supporters — and detractors.”

True, many arts organizations only pray that people are taking enough interest in them to talk about them anywhere, much less on the internet. Heck, I’m sure I speak for all arts organizations when I say that we wish people would be as passionate about us as they are about the style of hubcaps appropriate for a vehicle–much less the carburetor.

A couple of good decisions about the blog GM has made:

One big reason for Fast Lane’s success: GM is willing to accept and post criticism. Smart move. Nobody wants to read a sanitized blog. The site is also inclusive. In addition to Lutz, the company has opened the floor to other blogging GM executives, which helps give the behemoth brand a more human, approachable, and likable positioning.

And many view the art organizations the same way-inscrutable, closed off, mysterious, intimidating. (And unfortunately there can be some truth behind the perception.)

But the company is doing everything else right. Most important, GM hasn’t advertised the blog. Rather, it has wisely allowed the site to grow organically, gaining further street cred. “We’re really committed to avoiding corporate-speak and keeping this really transparent,” Wiley says…

Blog fans are actually an appealing consumer segment for an automaker, despite their image as a gaggle of unemployed malcontents sitting around in their pajamas. According to Forrester [Research], they are most likely to be male, with an average household income of $57,900. A quarter of all bloggers are ages 18 to 24, which makes them a good long-term investment. Perhaps most important, bloggers tend to be highly opinionated and highly influential — a real benefit for a company that peddles big-ticket items in an industry where more than half of all shoppers begin their research online…

Many bloggers, being bloggers, will no doubt view GM’s experiment with suspicion, so the company will need to maintain its street cred by not micromanaging content. It also needs to let the criticism roll — no matter what.

The whole idea of maintaining your street cred resonates with my recent entry on the difficulty a theatre was having getting bloggers to review for them. And it really underscores Elisa blog post cited in that entry.

The article goes on to say while few people regularly read blogs these days, it is an up and coming. Consumers regularly reading blogs rose from 2 percent in 2003 to 5 percent in 2004.

If you are looking for a younger audience, they are starting to get into the habit of doing their research online. They may not be ready to begin attending the arts quite yet,(and maybe they never will be) but like GM you aren’t ready with an effective blog and website to provide the content they seek either. Take advantage of the situation like GM did and hone your skills and techniques while there are few people around to notice your screw ups.

You Can Bring a Blogger to the Show, But You Can’t Make ‘Em Write

Back in the beginning of February among the theatre type blogs I listed in an entry was one to the Impact Theatre web page where they were offering free tickets to people who would see a show and blog for them.

As promised, I sent an email off to them yesterday to see how successful it was for them. I got a letter back from their graphics person, Cheshire Dave, who has given me permission to excerpt the email here. Apparently, as much as people seem to want to regale the blogosphere with the inane details of their lives, no one wants to write about theatre–even with a direct appeal.

Quoth Cheshire:

I am depressed to announce that yours is the very first email I’ve gotten from that link in the six months or so that it’s been up. No joke; no exaggeration. By and large, this initiative has been a spectacular failure. Except for one case, no blogger has taken me up on it, even ones I solicited directly (some of them didn’t even get back to me, and I emailed several times). The sole exception has been SFist (http://www.sfist.com), and that’s a site that I write for (I’m not the one doing the reviews). But the point of SFist is to fill a need for a regional blog, so it’s not like an individual’s blog in that regard. So really, my plan has been totally unsuccessful.

It kills me that I can’t find even one blogger who wants free tickets to theater that he or she would probably really enjoy. With bloggers more or less looked down upon by a great portion of the print establishment and not known about by even more people, it seems to me that what bloggers want is legitimacy. But when offered to them on a silver platter, they can’t be bothered. It’s really disappointing.

I did go to sfist.com and typed “Impact” into the search field to see what sorta stuff was going up. There were some nice articles for their productions with the sort of disclaimers about being involved with Impact Theatre that you would hope people being paid to promote governmental initiatives would make. Its a practice to which all uncredentialed journalist types should aspire. (I try to keep the blog generally apolitical, but sometimes, the opportunity to comment is just there.)

I sent him a couple links to some of my “bloggers as the next reviewers” entries (here, here, and here) in my inquiry email. He noted though that “One thing I didn’t see in your entry about bloggers as reviewers that is a benefit to the arts organization is the opportunity for almost-instant response on the blog.”

I thought I had said that somewhere already, but it certainly bears repeating. As he noted, his theatre gets most of its review driven audiences from the free weekly paper so by the time the review appears, the show is in to its second week. With the daily papers, you are sort of at the whims of the editors. A Sunday or Friday review is great–but god help you if it appears in Monday’s paper as it is the least read of any day.

Since bloggers are typically very quick to report their impressions, finding a good one with a dedicated readership can potentially be worth his/her weight in gold–so a couple free tickets to a show ain’t nothin’ But as I noted a couple days ago, I think blogging still has to have some time to mature as a information media. Once it does, I bet you see individuals with sites like sfist.com that appear well run and probably have a dedicated group of visitors.

Until then though, I encourage everyone to be like Impact and pioneer the way.

In Your Right Mind

In case you missed seeing it on Artsjournal today because it was a holiday for you, an article appeared from Wired suggesting that the future prosperity of the US lay in right brain activities.

The author foresees that as more left brain logic based jobs either get off shored or relegated to increasingly sophicated software, a demand for people with intuitive and empathic skills will emerge.

There was an interesting section that might mean good things for the arts organizations able to fulfill an apparently emerging need people are beginning to feel-

For companies and entrepreneurs, it’s no longer enough to create a product, a service, or an experience that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. In an age of abundance, consumers demand something more. Check out your bathroom. If you’re like a few million Americans, you’ve got a Michael Graves toilet brush or a Karim Rashid trash can that you bought at Target. Try explaining a designer garbage pail to the left side of your brain! Or consider illumination. Electric lighting was rare a century ago, but now it’s commonplace. Yet in the US, candles are a $2 billion a year business – for reasons that stretch beyond the logical need for luminosity to a prosperous country’s more inchoate desire for pleasure and transcendence.

Liberated by this prosperity but not fulfilled by it, more people are searching for meaning. From the mainstream embrace of such once-exotic practices as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the workplace to the influence of evangelism in pop culture and politics, the quest for meaning and purpose has become an integral part of everyday life.

This may present an interesting turn of events. I have been reading articles of late that talk about people skipping college or going into technical training to gain specific skills. While it is certainly true that colleges could do a better job at endowing their graduate with practical skills, if this Wired artice is correct, it may be time to shift one’s concentration back to liberal and fine arts degrees to gain marketable skills.