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Building the creative class: 10,000 slightly better decisions

Richard Florida is the new guru of economic development. His book, The Rise of the Creative Class and How it is Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, has become the new bible for city and state governments in the USA.
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Richard Florida is the new guru of economic development. His book, The Rise of the Creative Class and How it is Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, has become the new bible for city and state governments in the USA.
Florida claims something strange has happened to the labour market. In the old economy, the mines and mills people went to wherever the mines and mills were. Now, says Florida, jobs go wherever the talented people are.

Dave Robinson-editorial columnist-Northern Ontario Business
ROBINSON
Software companies move to Silicon Valley or Ottawa. Biotech firms move to Boston or Toronto. In the new economy, creativity is the key factor powering employment growth.
Northern Ontario is one of the places that creative young people are leaving.
That leaves us with only two alternatives: we let the North decline or we grow a creative class.
We want Northern Ontario to be richer and happier, so we need to
produce things that other people want to buy. Since people increasingly want beautiful, well designed, efficient, interesting things, we have to learn to produce beautiful, well designed,
efficient, interesting things. To produce beautiful, well designed, efficient, interesting things we have to be the kind of people who think about beauty, design, efficiency and variety. In other words, the future of Northern Ontario depends on whether we can make ourselves, and our children, into people who are passionate about good design and beauty.
This is economic analysis that goes far beyond conventional economic development. Instead of tinkering with taxes and zoning, it focuses on character and community. Instead of begging for business, it calls on us to unleash our own talents.
And how do we make ourselves and our children more creative, more concerned about quality and beauty, more thoughtful and more perceptive? The answer is so simple that it is hard to believe. We change the way we talk to our children.
We make sure that every single elementary teacher in Northern Ontario asks his or her class to think about a design question every single day. Even on a bad day, a teacher with no design training can come up with good design questions. “Do you think your desk is well designed?”
“Is the sidewalk in the right place?” “How would you improve the way I give assignments?”
And even the youngest students can come up with answers.
Thinking about design is fun for students. It encourages them to look at the world critically and it encourages them to imagine better and different worlds. It encourages them to rely on their own judgement and to listen to the ideas of others. It makes them into the kind of people we need. In fact, it makes them into the kind of people most of us want to be - people who constantly look for more beautiful and more efficient ways to do things.
This is the kind of curriculum change that most teachers will like. Teachers want to help their charges learn to criticise and to appreciate. They want to develop creativity. Many already ask design questions now and then. They don’t have to know anything about good design except that it is important. In fact, teachers shouldn’t even answer the questions. Let the students do the thinking.
Let them find them on the Internet or in books or in conversation with each other. Let them be creative.
We don’t need to make every student into an artist or an engineer. If every student grows up believing design matters, we have succeeded. If shop students in high-school argue about fitting machines to the human body and hydro workers worry about whether a hydro pole blocks the view, life in Northern Ontario will be a little better. Ten thousand slightly better decisions could make life in Northern Ontario a lot better. When young people start talking about design in the pubs, we will be on our way to economic growth.

The point here is that it is easy to develop a new habit of mind in an entire generation. The key is “every teacher, every student, every day,” so that young people grow up knowing that beauty and good design really matter to all of us.

Some of these designing young Northerners will still leave the North. It won’t matter.
Companies will come to Northern Ontario because Northerners have made themselves into one of the most creative peoples in the world.

Dave Robinson is an associate professor of economics at Laurentian University. He can be reached atdrobinson@laurentian.ca.



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