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The Real Failure of the Creative Class Is the Fear of Failure

Seeing Richard Florida speak at CNU 20 last month, all I could think about was one thing and one thing only:

He rated Greensboro, which in addition to being my current city is my hometown, 41 of 49 in his original list of large creative class cities.

No, it’s not the bottom of the barrel, but I have friends in Memphis who are just as discontented with him for being 49. From what I’ve heard of them, their number could be misguided as well. It doesn’t matter that those numbers are eleven years old. They still hurt.

That hurt has me doing a lot of work to prove Florida wrong. Hence why I always come down on city rankings. I’m still somewhat insecure about my city, but I know I’m wrong to be. I write this blog to help clear my head and keep it moving.

At the end of the day, thanks to this self-reflection, I don’t think I’m the problem. Nor is Greensboro in itself. We have art, we have theaters, and we have vibrant gay and immigrant communities. We are gaining jobs among young professionals. We’ve assessed our arts impact. And our alt-weekly newspaper has put this creative class issue front and center this week and will continue to do so at least for the next two years.

So what is the real failure of the creative class?

It is the fear of failure.

A colleague of mine (and friend of the blog) stated this fear so eloquently in a meeting this week. Basically, he reminded myself and others that we should not be in the business of not wanting to create or present ideas just because they could be rejected. He went on to say we should be mindful of how we let opinions and attitudes into our organization that discourage creativity and the creative process. This process includes failure.

I want to take his words a step further and apply them to the community as a whole.

We have to be willing to create and fail, along with our success. We are so focused on making sure our reputations, our money and the illusions of both stay in tact so much that we miss the need to mess up sometimes.

When we talk about a creative class, we must first look introspectively and be willing to support a true creative process.

We must not laugh at our city’s shortcomings (or at least not laugh for long). We must not abandon our properties or let them become slums because we are too cheap to make them any better. We must not assume that a property is a slum because the house is painted purple and the grass spray painted orange (that is if you do have a single-family home, same goes for odd windows, apartment buildings and signage).

We do need to put our money where our mouth is. If you have abundance, be willing to give to create something better. Realize though that not all of your money will be a good return on investment. However, that’s not to say that it never will.

And finally, remember that on paper, any F can be turned into an A. Let’s start doing that in our communities and fortifying the true sense of the creative class.

The photo above, taken by me on Elm Street in Greensboro, is one of the alt-weekly’s newspaper containers. I think it illustrates perfectly what we need to do to get over this creative class hurdle. Let’s talk about it on Facebook or Twitter.

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  • NEW BLOG POST- examining how fear of failure kills @richard_florida’s original creative class theory http://t.co/hm0q5jZi

  • “The real failure of the #CreativeClass is the fear of failure” http://t.co/tqVL6aNO @blackurbanist

  • Add to that, art and creativity are not only for the well-to-do.

    • admin

      Agreed and I think that’s something else that keeps a creative class from succeeding

  • Oli Mould

    Love this post, spot on. Florida (by proxy) has created a desire/obsession by urban governance to climb to the top of the rankings, and as you say, in the meantime, factoring out of the equation, all those things that make a city great – experimentation, reppropriation and play. I’ve had a few ramblings on this myself (http://globalurbanist.com/2010/08/02/ranking-creative-cities-an-exercise-in-futility) and (http://tacity.co.uk/2012/04/26/creative-failure-cr8net-2012/) if you feel so inclined to have a look. 

    • admin

      This is wonderful work! All of it is spot on and what I want people to think about

  • Great post by @blackurbanist on the problems of adopting the creative class thesis: http://t.co/K8UszT7S

  • Jeff Butts

    You’re so right about the fear-of-failure.  I spent a couple of days with Enrique Peñalosa last month and we had a similar conversation in regards to planning as a profession being paralyzed b/c of the highway era and big visions are often crushed out of this fear of failure. Sometimes we’ve just got to take a chance and not be afraid to fail.  Hmmm … I wonder when the last time I had a good failure was?  NM.  I got it 🙂 

  • awesome post! Definitely need more cities to be unafraid to fail in order to cultivate a creative class, and embrace their own uniqueness instead of trying to be the next NYC or Chicago or copying what works in other cities. 

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