11 Nov Is America Inc.’s brand diminishing?
“The United States built the world’s most powerful economy by producing and attracting human capital. Is America throwing that advantage away?”
This provocative statement opens Richard Florida’s article, “America’s Looming Creativity Crisis”, which appeared in the October 2004 issue of the Harvard Business Review. (The full text of the article can be purchased online here).
Florida is well known for his writings about the economic importance of the “Creative Class”– the 38 million American scientists, engineers, artists, architects, musicians, educators, programmers, entertainers and other workers in the healthcare, legal, finance, business and related fields who are involved in creating new ideas, technology and content or solving complex problems. He believes the main reason for America’s rise to economic superpower status is not its size or natural resources but its openness to new ideas. This has allowed it to attract the best and the brightest minds from all over the world and to mobilize the creativity and energy of its people. Creativity is the most critical component of competitiveness in Florida’s view.
Immigration has been an essential ingredient of the American innovation recipe. Florida states, “Since the 1930s, the U.S. has welcomed a stream of scientific, intellectual, cultural, and entrepreneurial talent that first fled fascism and then communism. It is this talent that has helped to make America’s university system and innovation infrastructure second to none.”
But he sees trouble on the horizon. Florida is concerned about our country’s continued ability to attract the brightest creative minds in the world and what might happen to our creativity and innovation if the flow of fresh brainpower slows. Our university system for example remains the envy of the world and a great many of the students we educate are foreign-born. Traditionally, a significant number has stayed in this country to pursue their careers. Many are the leaders and key contributors of our most innovative and successful new companies like Google, Yahoo and Sun Microsystems.
But since 2001, more foreign students are returning to their native countries and fewer are coming in the first place. Admissions applications from students in countries such as India and China for example have decreased by 58% and 76% respectively according to a Council of Graduate Schools report issued earlier this year. This trend portends a decline in our innovation capacity in Florida’s view. Fewer of the best and brightest students will come here to partake of our learning institutions and in the process get steeped in American culture and values. Nor will as many stay on after graduation to contribute their talents and ideas to our economy. Some argue that native born students can take up the slack. But Florida counters that while America has many highly talented young people, demographic trends make it unlikely that there will be nearly enough home grown creative talent to keep our economy thriving in the future.
In summary, Florida warns that America is risking its economic future by turning away from the policies and practices that have made us the envy of the world because fewer of the world’s top talent will want to come here. And of those that still do, many will find it difficult to enter the country due to immigration restrictions and ponderous security measures. Even native born creative talent will find the environment less open, tolerant and welcoming of the diverse perspectives and lifestyles that are the hallmark of creative human environments.
Is Florida’s view of America accurate – are we indeed facing a looming creativity crisis? Only time will tell, but the evidence he presents is strong enough to give pause to any thoughtful corporate or community leader. While not everyone will agree with him, Florida’s article provides a valuable starting point for the kind of debate in which our country’s business and political leaders must now engage. There is no denying that the world has changed and our physical security cannot be taken for granted. But neither can we be assured that America will always attract the best and brightest regardless of our policies and actions.
I recently visited lower Manhattan. I walked the perimeter of ground zero and stared somberly down into the massive void that still remains there. Soon new towers will again rise up to the sky. But one can’t help wonder whether what happened there marked the symbolic end of America as we knew it or the beginning of its renewal. I pray that it is the latter. Indeed, I felt a sense of hope when after a short walk to the edge of New York harbor I gazed out at the steadfast image of the Statue of Liberty standing tall as a beacon of freedom and hope. We should not forget its inscription:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
America has always been a place where EVERYONE can pursue their own dream of a better life. I hope we do everything in our power to keep it that way.
Tony DiRomualdo is a business researcher, writer, and advisor with Next Generation Consulting. He works at the intersection of people, business strategy, and information technology to help companies create a committed and high performance workforce. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.