Tag Archives: plenitude

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.

Art of the Trench coat: unexpected lessons from the luxury brand

Thanks to Eminence Grise, I recently had a look at Burberry’s Art of the Trench.

It’s a lovely, brooding site, the kind of thing you browse with the restless, deeply jaded eye of a French cafe dweller, especially if you are like me an ancient roue.

I was too jaded to do a full reconnaissance.  (Plus, my view was sometimes blocked by American tourists.  Why must they torment my city with their graceless parkas and athletic shoes?  I mean, really.)

But I noticed this much..

In the beginning, the world of fashion was inhabited by models, impossibly tall, thin, elegant and beautiful, who were shot by professional photographers and then edited and air brushed by sharp eyed editors as a result of which transformation the models became still more tall, thin, elegant and beautiful.  Our job: to look on with drooling admiration, our face pressed against plate glass, a bitter autumnal wind tugging at our unforgivably unfashionable outfits, get-ups (and parkas).

The Art of the Trench marks two departures from this world.

The website features lots of photos of people in the Burberry trench.  Most of these photographs are taken by a professional photographer but they show "real people."

The notion here is that Burberry trench is no longer one perfect idea in Plato’s cave.  Actually, thanks to it’s must-have status in the world of the officer, the spy and the detective, it always had a second life as a friend of romance and adventure.  But typically Burberry ignored this tradition, and presented the trench the way the fashion world presented most everything…for our drooling admiration, our face pressed against etc. etc.

Burberry is wrestling with Plenitude and the fragmentation of taste in our culture.  There is no longer one single perfect Trench.  It is understands that if Burberry no longer controls the Trench, that it has to share authorship with the rest of us. Burberry has in other words discovered cocreation.  And not a moment too soon.  To live in the new world, brands are no longer missiles fired into the night air.  They are now what we make them on the ground, or they are nothing much at all.

But the website here goes a step further.  They accept photos from real people.  The photos are bad.  And the people are, well, really real.  Warts and all.  And for me at least this is a step too far.  I don’t actually want to see really real people.  It turns out, shame on me, that I still want my luxury brands (and the models who bring them to me) to have a certain exalted status.  I am happy to be forgiven the long climb up Mount Olympus, but I have now discovered that I don’t really want to make that trek all the way down into the really really world.

This is just a little too authentic for me.  (And for others, I’m guessing.  You tell me.)  But then I’m an ancient roue who insists that the world, my Paris, present itself as something stage worthy and perfectly crafted.  Otherwise what’s a Paris for?   Luxury brands deliver an exaltation.  This is one of the things they do for us.  No?

Post script:

This praise for Burberry is perhaps too tame.  Seconds after finishing this post, I read Cathy Horyn’s "Reflections on a Weird Year" in the New York Times.

I’m … completely fascinated by the potential for fashion companies to really use the Web and digital technology in much more interesting and purposeful ways than they so far have. I don’t mean Facebook and Twitter and 13-year-old bloggers (isn’t she 16 yet?), but rather rethinking a brand in terms of digital and making it as important a consideration as design and print advertising, which is still what most brand managers trust. Some companies plainly “get it” (look at hermes.com), but more brand chiefs need to inform themselves and make digital a top-down priority.


Anonymous.  2009.  Model Citizen.  Eminence Grise.  December 22.  here.

The Burberry Art of the Trench website here

Horyn, Cathy.  Reflections on a Weird Year.  New York Times.  December 23.  here.


Thanks to Grace Peng.

Note: this post was lost due to Network Solutions incompetence in December of last year.  I am reposted it, today, December 24, 2010.