Ideas Matter: Why the Creative Class Survives and Thrives

By Kristen Harris

Looking back at the recent economic crisis, it’s easy to think that all classes and industries suffered equally. In reality, workers in the so-called creative class have come through relatively unscathed. Yes, just under three quarters of a million creative jobs were lost during 2008-2010, but that’s less than two percent of total jobs in the category.1 And certainly some categories of creative jobs fared better than others–news reporters, musicians, photographers and editors were especially hard hit. But compared to the loss of more than two million service jobs and 5.3 million blue-collar jobs, creative professionals are still doing well and looking forward to a bright future.

Why have creative class workers been able to survive, and in some cases thrive, in such a difficult economy? Because ideas matter. A fresh idea, perspective, communication style or approach can make the difference between a business barely hanging on (or worse), and succeeding. Ideas convince us to try or buy a product, support a non-profit’s mission, choose one vacation destination over another, or build in a certain housing development. Often we are buying into that idea itself—we can’t see and touch a mission or an experience—we have to believe it will be everything we expect and more. I didn’t buy a citrus juicer; I bought the idea of how much my family will love fresh-squeezed orange juice every morning.

A second reason the creative class is doing well, in the midst of economic turmoil, goes back to the creativity of the professionals themselves. Faced with a job loss or similar life-altering event, creative people can develop a variety of ideas to keep themselves moving forward. According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity,2 the number of new businesses created increased year over year during 2007-2009 (during a major recession) by people with an idea to share or skills to market. Creative people invent new products, find a fresh way to deliver a service, or address a need we didn’t even know we had (who knew they needed digital music, electronic books or podcasts before the iPod?!). They’re able to move from one seemingly dissimilar position to another, and even make entire industry or career changes, because their creativity allows them to thrive in a variety of environments. Good ideas can cross from one industry to another. In a recent article Richard Florida points out that “…creative class workers, even in the hardest hit fields, have the skills, education and human capital that allows them to switch jobs, fields and careers when required, an option that is largely unavailable to blue-collar workers.”

Creative class members have fared well compared to other classes of workers because their fresh ways of thinking are critical to the survival and success of businesses, and they’re able to shift gears into what is new or next to keep moving forward. They say, “I have an idea…” and there’s more where that came from!


1 Source: The Creative Class is Alive, by Richard Florida:

2 Source: Despite Recession, U.S. Entrepreneurial Activity Rises in 2009 to Highest Rate in 14 Years, Kauffman Study Shows