A Creative Economy In The Service Of What?

"The creative economy" (The 21st Century Corporation, Aug. 21-28) was insightful and especially timely for my MBA class, stimulating a great deal of discussion. However, regarding the contrasts drawn between the Industrial Economy (physical) and the Creative Economy (ideas and software), if it's true that "the advanced economies have gotten so efficient at producing food and physical goods that most of the workforce has been freed up to provide services or to produce abstract goods: data, software, news, entertainment, advertising, and the like," then the software revolution is over. The only value that ideas encased in software have is to generate better decisions about physical goods.

It is stated that "software is an idea; hamburger is a cow." I cannot eat software. But I may be able to get more and better hamburgers to market using ideas embodied in software. In effect, I am substituting silicon for other resources that might be used to produce hamburgers. The value of the software is created by the redeployment of the physical resources. The software and ideas in isolation are worthless. The ideas embodied in the software must ultimately be driven by our understanding of the physical world.

David E. Pingry

Professor of Economics

University of Arizona


I enjoyed reading your vision of business and the workplace in the 21st century. The entire section offered some stimulating and well-articulated ideas and comments, particularly "The boss in the Web Age." While the way it captured a day in the life of a fictitious "creative economy" CEO in 2020 made for intriguing reading, living as I still am in 2000, it left me unconvinced.

You assume that corporations will place increasing value on offbeat, creative people with unique backgrounds. This makes sense on paper, as companies and headhunters love to talk about creativity and "war for talent" these days. But what is the reality?

Pockets of recruiting enlightenment may perhaps be found in the U.S., but headhunters and human-resource managers in other parts of the world are as conservative as ever. Are you fluent in several languages? One or two sure looks nice on the resume, but more than that will likely be a cause for suspicion. Hold a master's degree in humanities/social sciences? Why would anyone do that? Besides, we have people working for us who have been doing this since they were 22. And why an MA and not an MBA? Born in China/Poland/Brazil? Ouch--that means you're not a native [English] speaker...

When it comes to hiring practices, corporations rushing into the 21st century want nothing quite as much as candidates who are standard, "focused" (i.e., have never studied anything outside of their job area) and "make sense." An Anglo-Saxon background, a college degree in marketing, perhaps a semester abroad (but not two) are still the safest way to play it.

Where does this leave your hypothetical next-century CEO, Sylvia Chen? If in 2020 she'll be 45, then at the moment she's 25 and has probably just finished her master's degree in music. I don't know if she has tried explaining to human-resource people how that helps her to see creative solutions, but I have a feeling she has pretty much shot herself in the foot. Unless she wants to languish at the bottom for the next 20 years, she had better get that Ivy League MBA soon.

Martin Kralik

Hong Kong

Thanks for asking John Chambers and Andy Grove whether they think we're going through a second Industrial Revolution ("Visionary vs. visionary"). With a moderate jogging of the memory banks, however, you might have remembered from Western Civilization 101 that we're now approaching (maybe) a third Industrial Revolution. The first was in England in the 18th century and involved the use of machines such as the spinning jenny to make cloth; the second (which you are no doubt thinking of as the first) took off in the 19th century with the steam engine.

David Light

Maynard, Mass.

I have been a subscriber for many years, but it still amazes me how you once in a while get completely out of touch and do things like turning a nonsubject into an 86-page editorial. The use of expressions such as the Creative Economy, virtual integration, and mass customization gives the impression that the world is under a revolution so far understood by few. If you say "the companies that will thrive... are those that value ideas above all else," I ask you: What were Ford Motor, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Boeing, Honda Motor, and Philips Electronics putting above all else to thrive 50 to 80 years ago?

As a matter of fact, the opposite may be truer today. Mankind is under the risk of becoming less, and not more, creative exactly because of things such as mass customization. You mention that now "customers can design up to 50,000 cosmetics and perfume formulations at Procter & Gamble spin-off reflect.com." At first, this appears great, but who in a normal state of mind would ever need 50,000 different perfume scents to feel better? Or 1 zillion Web sites to get news from? The age of information technology is important but certainly no more so than the age of the steam engine, the automobile, the telephone, electricity, or TV, just to mention a few.

Antonio Camargo

Sao Paulo

"The boss in the Web age" offers the notion that business leaders will become the primary world leaders in the next 20 years or so. How can a CEO dedicated to the bottom line also take into account social problems and formulate policy? Does the CEO have the facts to set military goals and budgets, raise headstart funding, and deal with the plethora of problems that beset any society? I would venture to guess that the selfishness and egocentricity that characterize a large number of the leaders of our global and domestic businesses will not be transformed into the humanism of this CEO of 20 years hence, concerned with and willing to work on problems that do not affect the bottom line.

Gunther H. Schiff

Beverly Hills, Calif.

You predict astonishing changes for the corporation. But while the editorial addresses more efficient globalization of ideas and products, it does not mention how those global ideas will be shared.

We may expect that the conventional system of language translation will be supplanted, to a large extent, by direct interpersonal, intercultural communication via global dialects, or a global dialect--in effect, a global second language that will exist alongside other national and ethnic languages.

For more than two generations, language researchers around the world have been proposing a revolutionary methodology of simplification of languages. The first such complete, radical simplification of any language has now been made available to anyone desiring to learn English. Known as Transitional English--transition from no knowledge of the language to knowledge of its standard form--this methodology is freely available on the Web for dissemination among speakers of all languages: www.uky.edu/Projects/Gioblec/.

John Lihani

Lexington, Ky.