Rotman School of Management
We have to rethink how we utilize workers in our advanced economy.
The Creativity-Intensive Future of Work
My dream is that American work will bend dramatically toward more creativity-oriented work and away from routine-oriented work. Over the past hundred years of Steelcase’s history, work in America has changed for the better. Specifically, the proportion of jobs that require autonomous judgment and decision-making has grown from 10% of the labor force to 30% of the labor force. This means that three times as many American workers get the pleasure of using their personal creativity to make better decisions.
However, 70% of workers in America have what my colleague Richard Florida and I call routine-oriented jobs. These are job categories in which there is little autonomous judgment and decision-making; a routine is specified and expected to be performed. There are three fundamental types of these jobs: routine-resource (e.g. a coal miner); routine-physical (e.g. assembly line worker); and routine-service (e.g. an accounts payable clerk).
As the chart above shows, there has been a massive transformation of the U.S. economy in the content of jobs over the past century.
Happily, creativity-oriented jobs have tripled. Routine jobs have gone in contrasting directions. Routine-service jobs have doubled to become the largest job category, while routine-physical jobs have dropped precipitously from the largest category to the third category with the coming of the service economy and routine-resource jobs have almost disappeared.
The big problem is that when a job doesn’t require the individual to exercise their natural creative potential, the person can’t be terribly productive and the employer can’t pay attractive wages. The 30% in the creativity-oriented jobs earn two and a half times the employment income of the 70% in the routine-oriented categories. In addition, job security is wretched in the routine-oriented job categories. Over the past 40 years, only in the very worst of economic times has unemployment in the creativity-oriented jobs hit its peak of 4% while for routine-oriented jobs, only in the very hottest economies has unemployment dipped to as low as 4% and it regularly spikes to double-digits.
The current challenges with income inequality are in large part a function of the emergence of these two extremes. The creativity-oriented workers are doing great – they aren’t being outsourced or downsized or laid off – while the routine-oriented workers are being squeezed in every way.
My view (and Richard’s) is that we have to rethink how we utilize workers in our advanced economy. Job structuring and classification becomes entirely self-sealing for many American workers: once a job is defined as routine, it becomes routine and the individual in it doesn’t exercise judgment or decision-making. That employee then becomes, by definition, low-productivity and both can’t be paid much and is easier to think of as a candidate for off-shoring.
If instead – and this is my dream – employees are asked to exercise judgment and decision-making in order to innovate and enhance the productivity of the operation, then we will see higher productivity, higher firm performance, higher wages and much higher job satisfaction.
I believe that we can dramatically increase the slope of that 100-year creativity-oriented jobs line and set free a wave of creativity that will power the economy by encouraging and enabling many more American workers to utilize a generous, not meager, portion of their brain.
Roger Martin Bio:
Roger Martin has served as dean of the Rotman School of Management since September 1, 1998. Previously, he spent 13 years as a Director of Monitor Company, a global strategy consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he served as co-head of the firm for two years.
His research work is Integrative Thinking, Business Design, Corporate Social Responsibility and Country Competitiveness. He has written four books: Fixing the Game (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), The Design of Business (Harvard Business School Press, 2009), The Opposable Mind (Harvard Business School Press, 2007) and The Responsibility Virus (Basic Books, 2002).
In 2011, Roger placed 6th on the Thinkers50 list, a bi-annual ranking of the most influential global business thinkers, sharing the top ten with Clay Christensen, Michael Porter and Malcolm Gladwell, among others. In 2010, he was named one of the 27 most influential designers in the world by Business Week. Business Week also named him one of seven "Innovation Gurus" in 2005.
A Canadian from Wallenstein, Ontario, Roger received his AB from Harvard College, with a concentration in Economics, in 1979 and his MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1981.