Creativity’s brief moment in the sun?

At year’s end, I have an unhappy thought, that some of the creative professionals who rose of prominence in the first decade of the 21st century will be eclipsed by the end of the decade.  My unhappy thought: the first decade of the 21st century will be for some creative professionals, a brief moment in the sun.

This suspicion turns on three propositions.

1) There has been a change in supply.

As Henry Jenkins pointed out in Textual Poachers and as I labored to point out in Plenitude, the distinction between cultural producers and consumers began to blur in the last 20 years.  Indeed, there was a vast migration from one side of the distinction to the other.  Many people who once merely consumed culture (in the form of film, art, comedy, observation, journalism, criticism) were now surprisingly good at producing this culture.  Suddenly in the economy of culture, the number of suppliers exploded.

2)  There has been a change in demand.

The first decade of the 21st century  was the moment in which the corporation reached out and embraced creativity. We have many institutions and people to thank for this, including BusinessWeek (when it announced the innovation economy), Richard Florida and his study of the creative class, the Kelley brothers (David at Stanford design school, and Tom at Ideo), Roger Martin at the Rotman School, to name a few .

3) There has been a change in the market in which supply and demand find one another

Recently, I was chatted with Richard Shear. He’s owns a design firm.  Over the years he’s done very well, thank you very much. But he can see a cloud on the horizon.  He is seeing some corporations "crowdsourcing" their creativity.  They hold competitions in which all the design talent "out there" is encouraged to apply.  The best work is selected…and paid much less than my friend would have charged.  In sum, demand may be increasing, but supply is increasing more. So prices are falling.

A case in point: that image that appears in the upper right hand corner of this post?  I just bought it from istockphoto.  It cost me a dollar.

4) Creative professionals may lose their moment in the sun.

The economics of creativity may be changing, and this trend appears to be on a collision with the trend that made designers the charmed creatures of the corporation.  It’s possible that the great golden age of commercial creativity may end almost before it began.  By the end of the decade of the next century, we may be looking at a very different design world.

5) Recommendation

In the new "crowdsourced" economy, there will be one place where designers will continue to flourish.  It will be with clients who do not know what they need.  When they do know what they need, they will take advantage of the new economy.  But when they don’t, they will need a enduring connection with a designers who gets who they are, who the consumer is, and what the culture is.  They will need designers who deliver a larger package of knowledge, intelligence, and creativity.  (To be sure, this is the way great designers always seen what they do.)  The upshot?Designers should be cultivating the skills that enable them to deliver ideas and intelligence, not just design.  (To be fair, this is what all design schools say they do.)  This will take a new order of professional development.  (It will mean that designers will have to be Chief Culture Officers, whomever else they are.)

There’s good news: that as the world grows more dynamic, more and more clients are going to need more foundational work from their designers.  They won’t know what they need. They will come to the designer with a wish for a bigger picture, pattern recognition, a true knowledge and mastery of culture, a feeling for the competitive field and a deeper skill set that is perhaps now usual.


Florida, Richard. 2003. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. Basic Books.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge.

McCracken, Grant.  1997.  Plenitude.  Toronto: Periph Fluide.

McCracken, Grant.  2009.  Chief Culture Officer.  Basic Books.

Mandel, Michael.  2004.  "This Way to the Future." BusinessWeek, October 11.

Kelley, Thomas, and Jonathan Littman. 2005. The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. New York: Broadway Business.

Moldoveanu, Mihnea C., and Roger L. Martin. 2008. The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future. New York: Oxford University Press.

Winsor, John.  2009.  The power of And.  John Winsor’s Blog.  December 30. here.


I have the uneasy feeling that my recommendation comes from someone somewhere.  I have been reading widely over the holidays, and there has been a lot of water under the board (internet surfing, that is).  If someone knows the source of this argument, please let me know.

Note: this post was lost late last year due to Network Solutions’ incompetence.  I am reposting it today December 31, 2010.