Back to the task at hand.
Fisking Jay Mathews on the Global Economy and Education, Part 1 started a look at the recent debate between Bob Compton, Executive Producer of Two Million Minutes, and the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews.
John at the AFT’s NCLBlog called it a “cablicious babblefest,” which I can only assume is a mashup of “cable” and “-icious.” It sounds better when said aloud than it looks in print. I like it.
And John is right that the debate left him and others “know[ing] less about the subject than I did before.” That’s what you get when one side [or both, as happens frequently on cable] presents terrible arguments.
Time to pick up where I left off in sorting out Mathews’ Mess.
“In order to get jobs, in order to get effective jobs, you have to be creative.”
I think that by “effective jobs,” Mathews meant to say “high-paying jobs.” If he really meant what he said, then I know a lot of people he’d willingly label as having “ineffective jobs.” If they only knew how useless their lives were!
Here’s a top-20 list of the highest paying jobs in the US [as ranked by BizJournals]:
- Aircraft pilots and flight engineer
- Engineering Manager
- Securities and commodities sales agent
- Computer and information systems manager
- Marketing and sales manager
- General and operations manager
- Natural sciences manager
- Computer and information scientist
- Financial manager
- Computer software engineer
- Public relations manager
- Announcer [radio/TV]
- Purchasing manager
- Industrial production manager
Some of these professions, of course, are more creative than others. I want my PR firm to be creative; I want my airline pilot to stick to the protocol he’s given. I want my lawyer to win my case even if it means inventing an untried legal strategy; I want my pharmacist to exercise little creative license in the distribution of my medication.
You get the picture.
These 20 jobs all depend on creativity to an extent. At the least, creativity comes into play on the personnel side. A surgeon might specialize in just a handful of procedures that he repeats, but there’s more to his job in addition to those few hours a week when he’s holding the scalpel [though flawless repetition of procedures and various administrative duties are the meat and potatoes of his success].
But all of these jobs – every single one of them, from 1 to 20 – require the mastery of basic skills, with about half requiring stringent professional certification. You might have all the creativity in the world – and we know that CEOs, lawyers, and financial managers do some wildly creative stuff that reaps professional rewards – but if you’re an aspiring financial manager who can’t process data, you don’t become a financial manager.
You pass Organic Chemistry en route to becoming a surgeon.
You pass a multitude of physics courses en route to becoming a computer software engineer or an engineering manager.
You pass through a host of language/literacy-related training to become a successful marketing/sales manager.
And if you can’t get through the basic training required for each of these “effective jobs,” you never get the job in the first place.
Consider the series of commercials running in the northeast [maybe nationwide, I don't know] for TimeWarner Cable in which several normal people relay their ideas for phone/internet services. They explain the creative ideas they’ve brainstormed – “make the calls less expensive,” or as this YouTube video shows, “I had an idea: video on demand. Movies at the touch of a button.” Well, to the actors’ shagrin, TimeWarner offers those services now, and these folks lament that their idea was stolen.
It’s a 30-second bit of comedy. We see creative types without any means to act on their creativity; we see the company that has successfully produced the same ideas. That creativity means little without a foundation of skills is such an obvious thing that this series of commercials presents it as universal humor that everyone can understand.
Well, almost everyone, it seems.
Creativity can separate the winners from the also-rans, but creativity isn’t what gets you into the race. Creativity has a real impact when it’s on a solid foundation of skills – and little impact without that foundation. Mathews is worried about the proverbial cherry on top; Compton is worried about the rest of the sundae.
The crux of the argument here between Compton and Mathews is about the base skills required to compete in an industry [Compton] and the unique qualities necessary to rule that industry [Mathews]. Mathews is right when he intimates that the next Bill Gates is more likely be an American citizen than an Indian citizen – the odds are with that argument when political and social factors are involved.
But Compton’s next 200 programming hires aren’t likely to be from the United States – he’s not alone here in searching for competent, skilled college graduates and left wanting – and those are the numbers that add up.
Here’s a bit from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s remarks at Harvard a few weeks ago – courtesy of Mathews’ Washington Post. In describing research on the American economic surge of the 1990s, Bernanke said:
“One key finding of that research is that, to have an economic impact, technological innovations must be translated into successful commercial applications. This country’s competitive, market-based system, its flexible capital and labor markets, its tradition of entrepreneurship, and its technological strengths–to which Harvard and other universities make a critical contribution–help ensure that that happens on an ongoing basis.”
Food for thought.
8 Responses to “Fisking Jay Mathews on the Global Economy and Education, Part 2: Analyzing Creativity”
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