Dot Commentary: Innovate!

In his recently released book Rise of the Creative Class, author Richard Florida makes a number of assertions about the powerful role of “creativity” in today’s economic climate.

In his recently released book Rise of the Creative Class, author Richard Florida makes a number of assertions about the powerful role of “creativity” in today’s economic climate. In the study, Florida shows how those U.S. cities that have embraced the “creative class” (scientists, artists, writers, IT professionals) have flourished, whereas those that relied solely on “underwriting big-box retailers, subsidizing downtown malls, recruiting call centers, and squandering precious taxpayer dollars on extravagant stadium complexes” are decaying rapidly.

Florida’s study is controversial, to say the least. Critics have been eager to point out its flaws, and I confess that I do not subscribe to it 100% (though I do recommend that you check out the book for yourself). Still, the facts seem to support many of his arguments. Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, San Diego, Austin and Minneapolis—cities with a high rating on Florida’s “creativity index”—have been rather prosperous, even in the face of a declining economy. Conversely, cities with little creative capital (Detroit, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Providence, Oklahoma City, Louisville and Memphis, for example) have been hurting economically for some time now.

Shortly after completing Florida’s book, I noticed a similar theme in an article about small software companies trying to compete against Microsoft. The article indicated that while beating Microsoft is not easy, the software behemoth is capable of being defeated. The key, says one CEO, is innovation. One of the companies profiled was Intuit Software (the folks behind TurboTax). Intuit has been able to outsmart and outpace Microsoft at every step of the game by taking an innovative approach to its objective. This included anticipating its customers’ evolving needs and adding new features to address those needs. The result? In spite of numerous attempts by Microsoft to break into the market, Intuit today boasts a 72% market share.

In both of the above instances, there is a tangible correlation between the creativity demonstrated by an entity and the financial success that it enjoys as a result. The message seems to be that when it comes to surviving—and prospering—in a difficult economy, innovation and creativity are key factors.

When I offered my thoughts on this issue to a colleague, his immediate reaction was to roll his eyes and tell me how the finishing industry is “not as exciting” as the software or information technology industries, and, therefore, is not driven by innovation. I will concede that to some people—particularly those outside of our industry—a plating process may not seem terribly exciting. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any room in our industry for creativity or innovation. In fact, I believe just the opposite: There is a tremendous wealth of creativity in the finishing industry waiting to be tapped into.

My challenge to you is this. The next time you are writing a company brochure, redesigning your corporate web site, entertaining a prospective client or even planning a company function, consider how you can inject some innovation into your project. Think of new ways to market your company’s services on the Internet, or maybe even look into some guerilla marketing tactics. Explore new ways to overcome the day-to-day logistical obstacles associated with your finishing process. In short, try something that you’ve never done before. Better yet, try something that nobody else has done before.