The rise of the creative class

In The Rise of Creative ClassRichard Florida points out that little analytical value remains in traditional Marxian class distinctions of proletariat, bourgeoisie, capitalist and worker but also argues that the more recent concepts of knowledge worker, professional-managerial  and symbolic-analytical worker are also not sufficiently nuanced to describe the  contemporary forms of work.  He puts forward a four-category typology, “the new class structure” (Florida, 2002, pp. 68-72): creative class (comprised of two sub-groups – the super creative core and creative professionals); service class; working class; and agricultural workers.

1) Creative Class: within this group, the differentiation between the two sub-categories (the super creative core and creative professionals) is primarily based upon the extent to which these sub-groups produce transferable, widely usable forms (products, knowledge, methods, etc) as their primary function.

Super creative workers include eg scientists, engineers, writers, artists, architects, editors, designers, analysts, programmers.   The key characteristics of this sub-group are that they:

  • fully engage in creative process
  • produce new forms (designs, products, theories) that are readily transferable and widely useful
  • engage in creative work regularly – it’s their core task, it’s what they are paid to do
  • not just solve problems but find and define problems

Creative professionals includes health-care professionals, lawyers, managers, finance, office managers, some technicians in knowledge-intensive domains.  The key characteristics that distinguish this group are that they:

  • engage in creative problem-solving (but largely don’t define the problems)
  • draw upon existing knowledge to solve specific problems (but largely don’t create new knowledge)
  • sometimes may come up with a method or product that may become transferable and widely useful, but this is largely not part of their job description
  • apply or combine standard approaches in unique ways to fit the situation
  • exercise a great deal of judgement
  • sometimes may participate in testing and refinement of new techniques, product or method

2) Services class: low-end, typically low wage, and low-autonomy occupations, for example food-services workers, cleaners, personal care attendants, secretaries and clerical workers, security guards, some types of computer support specialists, etc. Florida argues that services class has emerged out of economic necessity because of the way the creative economy operates (it carries out largely a support function for the creative class).

3) Working class: including occupations such as roduction operations, transportation and material moving, repair and maintenance, construction work.

4) Agricultural workers: self-explanatory.

He also argues that the rise of creative class is reflected in shifts in values, norms and attitudes, in particular individuality, meritocracy, diversity and openness which always existed among certain types of professions but are now becoming increasingly much more pervasive and mainstream (ibid, pp. 77-80):

  • Individuality: creative workers have strong preference for individuality, self-statement; don’t want to conform to organisational directives; resist traditional group-oriented norms; endeavour to create individualistic identities (which can entail a mixing of multiple identities)
  • Meritocracy: merit, hard work, challenge and stimulation in work are strongly valued; propensity for goal-setting and achievement;  no longer define themselves mainly by financial status symbols – instead want to move up on the basis of their abilities and effort; are motivated by respect of peers; have faith that virtue will be rewarded; value self-determination; mistrust rigid caste systems.
  • Diversity and openness: diversity in all its manifestations is valued – seeking environment open to differences (from ethnic diversity to sexual orientation to acceptance of odd personal habits and styles of dress); value (geographic) mobility.


Developmental level of self-regulatory skills in the workplace

Barry Zimmerman in his article Attaining self-regulation: A social congintive perspective argues that most skills (congnitive and motoric) are initially acquired by observing, reading, or hearing about the performance of skilled social models (teachers, experts, experienced peers, etc). He argues that the socially-conveyed skills become self-regulated through a series of levels. These developmental levels of regulatory skills are:

Level 1- Observation-Vicarious induction of a skill from a proficient model

Level 2 – Emulation-Imitative performance of the general pattern/style of a model’s skill with social assistance

Level 3-Self-control-Independent display of the model’s skill under sturctured conditions

Level 4 -Self-regulation-Adaptive use of skill across changing personal and environmental conditions

Zimmerman says that there is evidence that the speed and quality of the development of self-regulatory skills “can be enhanced significantly if learners proceed according to a multilevel developmental hierarchy” (p. 31). He then describes an unpublished study by Kistantas, Zimmerman and Cleary* who compared the development of dart skill by novices who learned initially from modelling (a skilled dart player demonstrated dart throwing strategies and provided feedback on a selective basis) with that of learners who initally learned from enactment.  The study found that learners who had the benefit of modelling “significantly surpassed the dart skill of those who attempted to learn from performance outcomes only” (p. 31). And “learners who received feedback learned better than those who practiced on their own, but the feedback was insufficient to make up for the absence of vicarious experience” (p.31). Learners exposed to strategic modelling “showed higher levels of self-motivation according to an array of measures such as self-efficacy and intrinsic interest than students who realied on discovery and social feedback” (p.32).

It would be interesting to conduct a similar study in the context of self-regulated learning in the workplace (non-instructional, non-formal learning), in addition to extending it to cognitive rather than only motoric skills.  It would also be interesting to study to what extent exerienced peers can facilitate development of self-regulatory skills in the workplace during levels 1-4.

* Kistantas, A., Zimmerman, B., & Cleary, T. (1999). Observation and imitation phases in the development of motoric self-regulation. Unpublished manuscript. Graduate School of the City University of New York.

Levels of knowledge work

Another classification of knowledge work that Davenport suggest (see previous post) is based on the type of knowledge activity – finding, creating, packaging, distributing of applying knowledge. In this classification:

Finding knowledge is concerned with “understanding knowledge requirement, searching for it among multiple sources, and passing it along to the requester or user. Examples: librarian, competetive intelligence analyst”. Creating knowledge refers to “creating new knowledge. Examples: researchers in a pharmaceutical company, book authors.” Packaging knowledge involves “putting together knowledge created by others. Examples: publishing, reporters, editors”.  Distribution involves “creation of systems and processes to increase access to knowlege for others. Examples: those responsible for KM in organisations”. Finally, application includes “use and reuse of [existing]knowledge, without a lot of new knoweldge being created. Examples: accountants, nurses”.

This classification is perhaps a little bit too granular. Firstly, jobs based solely on “finding knowledge” type tasks are rare, instead this activity is integral to all other types (creating, applying, etc).  So I think we can safely do away with this as a distinct category. Secondly, distribution too is problematic as a distintc type of knowledge work.  As with finding type, jobs focused predominately on knowledge distribution are rare, plus the ease with which knowledge can be at present be shared and distributed over the web makes this category obsolete.

What we end up with then is three levels of knowledge work:

Level 1. Knowledge application
Level 2. Knowledge packaging/integration
Level 3. Knowledge creation

Types of knowledge work: Differences between experts and novices?

Thomas Davenport in his “Thinking for a Living” (Chapter 2) offers a set of classifications of the types of knowledge work.

The first one is a martix structured around complexity (C) of knoweldge work (ranging from routine to interpretation/judgement-based) and level of interdependence (I) requried (from individual cator-based to reliant on collaborative groups). It includes transaction model (low C, low I); integration model (low C, high I); collaboration model (high C, high I), and expert model (high C, low I).

I am wondering if within each of these general types of knowledge work, there are differences in the nature of tasks that novices and experts carry out. Take for example the collaboration model. Davenport claims that knowledge work of this type is characterised by being improvisational, highly reliant on deep expertise across functions, and dependent on fluid deployment in flexible teams. He uses investment banking as a typical example of this type of knowledge work.  But how likley is a novice investment banker to have such deep cross-functional expertise?  Novices will probably start off by doing more routine and process-reliant tasks (the key characteristics of transaction and integration model), which will increase in complexity and level of interaction as their skills and expertise develops. Davenport’s classification model doesn’t seem to reflect a developmental trajectory that exists within each type of work.

We are currently using this classification within a research study in a global multinational company. It would be interesting to see if the upcoming surveys in each of the specialist testbeds within this company will show any differences between novices and experts in relation to the nature and the types of the knowledge work.

***** UPDATE on Oct 2, 2011: This study has now been published in the Journal of Knowledge Management. The full reference is:

Margaryan, A., Milligan, C., & Littlejohn, A. (2011). Validation of Davenport’s Classification Structure of Knowledge-intensive Processes. Journal of Knowledge Management, 15(4), 568-581.