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Cultivating the creative

October 10, 2010


Items on a desk connoting creativity.

The "creative class" encompasses occupations in which creativity is often put to use, and members of this group number some 38 million in the United States.

The U is a fertile training ground for the next generation of idea makers

By Rick Moore

We live in a state and world where creativity and innovative thinking are prized commodities.

That’s no surprise to anyone who has followed the writings of Richard Florida, whose 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class defined a growing culture in which creativity is a key component of job descriptions. By Florida’s account, the “creative class” numbers some 38 million Americans, or 30 percent of the nation’s workforce.

And there’s great news close to home. Minneapolis-St. Paul ranks in the top 10 in most creative places in the United States; people are flocking to creative hubs; and the University of Minnesota is a fertile training ground for the next generation of idea makers and shakers.

Innovation equals success

“The American economy is increasingly ideas- and software-driven, and most manufacturing, for better or worse, has been shipped overseas,” says Tom Fisher, dean of the U’s College of Design—an obvious hot spot for creative minds. “We are even more dependent on creativity. A lot of corporations in our area realize that unless they continue to be innovative, they will fall behind in terms of global competition.”

Indeed, Fisher points to a recent survey in which CEOs around the world were asked to name the most important quality they look for in new employees. “Contrary to what they expected, creativity was by far number one,” he says.

And the U is poised to be the pipeline for innovation, according to Steven Rosenstone, the U’s vice president for scholarly and cultural affairs.

“If one is thinking about long-term strategy for Minnesota, the University plays an absolutely critical role in not only recruiting remarkably creative students and faculty, but in turning out creative and innovative graduates. We also need to work collaboratively with our community partners to make this the kind of place that creative people want to be.”

And they do want to be here. Fisher points to new faculty member Lucy Dunne, whose work falls at the crossroads of clothing design, medicine, and computer science.

“We were the only university that had all of those three disciplines on the same campus,” he says. “We are attracting creative people here because we have so much in one location.”

“When it comes to creativity, we can put Minnesota on steroids,” Rosenstone says. “And we ought to play that role. That’s what will make our graduates hot commodities in every sector, no matter what they want to do, whether it’s write screenplays or run banks."


Beyond that, the U continues to foster collaborations—across colleges and disciplines—aimed at viewing problems through different lenses. For example, the Center for Design in Health has focused on projects that include redesigning patient forms to be more efficient; adapting information-exchange protocols from the airline industry to the nursing industry; and developing a system of color coding surgical instruments to ensure that none are left inside patients during surgeries.

“These are pretty simple things that come from intersecting design expertise and knowledge with the healthcare industry,” Fisher says.

John Finnegan, Jr., dean of the School of Public Health, can point to a number of collaborations his school is involved with. They include a food initiative involving faculty from at least a half dozen colleges, who are looking at “everything from the production/agronomy side of the equation all the way over to such things as obesity and diabetes and public policy,” Finnegan says. “What’s evolving right now in this food initiative is probably one of the most comprehensive continuums of dealing with the issue of food and its impact on human life.”

Great minds think differently

“When it comes to creativity, we can put Minnesota on steroids,” Rosenstone says. “And we ought to play that role. That’s what will make our graduates hot commodities in every sector, no matter what they want to do, whether it’s write screenplays or run banks. It’s people with innovative ideas who make the biggest contributions.”

“At the end of the day, the people who invent the new products, who invent the new solutions, who solve the big hairy problems in ways that nobody else figured out—they are the change-makers,” he adds. “They are the people who transform the world.” 

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Tags: College of Design

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