Sunday, July 6, 2008


Another book that I read recently is Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class. His thesis is that human creativity is the ultimate economic resource, and people who make their living primarily through exercising their creativity are becoming the dominant class in America and other economically advanced countries. He offers lots of data, charts, and statistics. He profiles various parts of the country, ranking them by creativity, tolerance, and technology.

One of the things that Florida sites as important in building a first-class creative city is creating a vibrant street-life, filled with cafes, clubs, galleries, etc. Seattle, my home for nearly twenty years now, ranks #3 on his "Creativity" index. Recently the mayor of Seattle proposed regulatory changes to make it easier to get a license for a sidewalk cafe. Apparently Seattle does understand some of the things that really matter for building a first class creative economy.

The other piece of the book that particularly caught my eye was when he talked about the differences between companies that truly understand how to get the best from creative workers and old-style companies. Old style companies, he says, put the senior management in big corner offices away from everyone else and put low-ranking workers at or near the central parts of the office. New-style companies put open spaces in the central part of the office, with managers near the open spaces.

This reminded me of some of the companies that I've worked at over the years. As a software engineer I've worked at some companies that were extremely successful, that clearly showed they were able to get the best out of their workers. Those companies (F5 Networks, Microsoft) followed that model of open spaces for people to congregate near the center of the building, and keeping even senior pretty management in offices that were just like everyone else's.

By contrast, one company that I worked at recently had their engineers crammed into tiny spaces while the executives had very large offices that were set off in the corner, away from everyone else. I remember looking at the offices of the CEO and the COO and being offended at the size of their offices, especially when they were cramming 6 programming managers into a conference room because there wasn't any cubical space left.

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