…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…

The creative class(room)

The creative class(room): distilling the literature at large to pursue creative space for educators*


This post reviews trends for working with creativity in a knowledge-intensive economy and applies them as a case-in-point to the everyday work of educators. It focuses on creativity as a highly sought after resource in a knowledge-intensive economy and the identification of drivers and inhibitors to creative work. The central themes of this paper are:

i) that the creative quotient of educators (individually and collectively) is like any other natural resource in that it has limits and needs to be managed for sustainability; and

ii) that creative space for educators must be actively pursued, lest it be swamped by ‘busy-being-busy’ work.

It is argued then, that making space for creativity in the workplace of educators—and not just on the periphery—but central, valued and embedded in professional practice—requires careful and purposeful consideration in the nurturing and design of a better future for education.

The wider literature also points to the increasing importance of intangibles as drivers of growth in a global and interconnected knowledge-intensive economy, where intangible assets account for three quarters of an organisation’s asset base. There is a need to take a broader systems view of our world in order to make sense of—and create value through—these often invisible interconnections. These interconnections cascade into the workplace from the uncertain, complex, ambiguous world we live in and the competitive environment now operating on a global scale.

A systems approach also allows us to look at the inner and professional contexts that play out in everyday educational labour as well as the global contexts described above. These times call on educators to know themselves well as a first step to productive and creative professional lives and to harness the many intrinsic qualities i.e. creative energy and values that reside within. These are the drivers that propel people, for example, to do good work and these intangibles, signified by the term golden capital (Davis, 2008)—our personal reserves of human, social and intellectual capital, are emerging as the most valuable of resources in the contemporary workplace.

Defining the Creative Class

Richard Florida (2003) positions educators in the elite creative core of professions essential to a knowledge-driven economy. Florida’s elite core of the creative class also includes people in science and engineering, architecture and design, arts, music and entertainment “who share a common creative ethos that values creativity, individualism, difference and merit and consider every manifestation of creativity—technology, cultural and economic—as interlinked and inseparable” (p. 8).

The creative process is and always has been social and inherently difficult to measure. It is therefore necessary for organisations to harness and support creative endeavours. Florida (2003) investigates the meanings of organisation, in terms of organis-ing (demographics and geography) as well as the organisation (providing professional and amenable workplace settings) for the creative class. He illustrates this point by discussing the issue of global competition for talent. With staff shortages looming due in no small part to an aging workforce, leaders of schools and universities in Australia as elsewhere will soon enough be engaged in this competition to attract international teachers and lecturers and/or encourage Australian educators to stay—in the country and the profession.

The Creative Class(room): Legitimising Creativity in Educators’ Work

The creative quotient of educators is always at play within the classroom and is also called upon in every day professional practice. Educators are affected by the wider systems described in the introduction, that is the interconnections of global, professional and inner domains. Added to this, they also face the consequences of economic and political intervention in the most direct and public of ways.

Economic rationalism plays out daily in the classroom and in their workplace in the guise of competing tensions for resources and time–where both are scarce and the issues and ‘must haves’ and ‘must dos’ are many. Political policies in most western countries has seen the growth of standardised testing as a booming industry (Robinson, 2009 p. 237) which in itself is counter productive to educating the next generation to be “energetic, imaginative and confident in the face of an unpredictable, contestive, emergent world” (Kane in McWilliam, 2008 p. 138). Robinson (2007) and McWilliam (2008) both argue that an over reliance on testing and standardisation is in fact shifting the focus, energy and creative quotient from educating to the proxy for education arising from standardised testing and other compliance and surveillance mechanisms, which manifest as league tables and other circumstances where measures morph into performative targets:

What a performative educational culture aspires to is not a high standard of education but a ‘high standard of standardness’ (Mulcahy in McWilliam, 2008 p. 76).

Classroom teaching, preparation and relationship building—part of the everyday labour of an educator—is inherently creative and takes up a good deal of one’s creativity quotient. This is also true for other elite core creative class professionals as defined by Florida (2003) but not necessarily so for all workers. The core work of teachers in the dynamic environment of the classroom requires creativity and innovation ALL DAY EVERY DAY, and so “innovation is survival” is an imperative for educators as much as other elite core creatives such as architects. Educators continually contextualise and define their work in light of ever changing events in and out of the classroom. Creativity, innovation and tacit knowledge are needed not only to make meaning for their students but to do all the other things necessary to keep them engaged, safe and learning—there are no assembly lines, no scripts, no certainties to be relied upon, even if a lesson happens to be repeatable.

Roger Martin, Dean of Rotman School of Management, Toronto, Canada identifies creativity as a design strategy. In the following quote, which is the central premise of his later published work on integrative thinking, Martin (2007a) identifies creativity as a design strategy central to his work. These principles can equally apply to the work of the educator and to the organisational design of educators’ work.

For me, design is centrally about creating options or possibilities that do not currently exist, not choosing between or among options that currently do. So at its heart, it is about the creation of something new. This highlights the difference between business administration and business design. Business administration entails the intelligent selection from among existing known options and the taking of action on the selection in question. Business design entails the creative production of a new option that is superior to the existing options (Martin, 2007b).

Martin also expands the notion of reason, adding one that legitimises creativity—abductive reasoning—to the inductive and deductive reasoning repertoire. Abductive reasoning is the logic of what might be, unconstrained thinking about possibilities, what ought to be, etc. These three reasoning processes can then be applied to what he calls ‘wicked problems’ (Martin, 2005). Wicked problems are those often inherited and entrenched problems or else unresolved and undiscussable issues which underpin calls for transformative, rather than reformative agendas in education.


Educators’ work is creative by nature and vital for a knowledge-intensive economy, that is why educators are listed in the elite core of the creative class (Florida, 2003). The fact that the majority of an educator’s creativity quotient is naturally taken up either in the classroom or reflecting and researching ways to improve their classroom practice should be acknowledged too. This creative work—however hard to measure through an output driven, economic rationalist model—is nevertheless a key to success and prosperity in a knowledge-intensive economy. It is a shift in thinking from viewing this creative work and ongoing development of educators as an expense on the ledger rather than an investment in future prosperity that will address this lag in legitimising teachers’ work more generally and creativity in teachers’ work more specifically.

Davis, H. 2008. Golden capital, Living Asset Stewardship and kindred intangible assets: Can we measure up? International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management, 8 (1), pp. 137 – 146.

Florida, R. L. 2003. The rise of the creative class: and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. Melbourne, Pluto Press.

Martin, R. L. 2005. Creativity that goes deep: embracing design-shop approaches to problem solving means having to shed some key characteristics of how traditional companies work. Business Week (August 3), pp. 1 – 5.

Martin, R. L. 2007a. The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win through Integrative Thinking.  Boston, Mass., Harvard Business School Press.

Martin, R. L. 2007b. How does creativity play a role in “design strategy“?, Institute of Design Strategy Conference. Chicago, Institute of Design Strategy.

McWilliam, E. 2008. The creative workforce: how to launch young people into high-flying futures. Sydney, University of New South Wales Press.

Robinson, K. 2009. The Element: how finding your passion changes everything. New York, Viking.

*Forthcoming – Excerpt from Refereed Conference Paper Submission for the 14th International Conference on Thinking, Malaysia, June 2009: THINKING MINDS: NURTURING THE DESIGN OF A BETTER FUTURE


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