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Human Capital: Creativity and Competition

by Elaine Schwartz    •    May 24, 2013    •    724 Views

Telling graduates that, “You are now officially credentialed as being smart,” author Walter Isaacson began his commencement address at Pomona College. “But,” he continued, because “Smart people are a dime a dozen, … Think different” is what matters.

With a “Think different” message, Isaacson reminded us of Steve Jobs’s quest for elegant products. His great new story, however, was about the unblinking stare that Jobs learned from his guru in India. That stare, paired with “Don’t be afraid. You can do it,” pushed people to accomplish what they had thought was impossible. It inspired the first Macintosh team to cut the Mac’s boot-up time from 78 to 50 seconds. It brought uniquely great high quality glass to the iPhone. Repeatedly, it inspired and intimidated people.

I do recommend listening to the talk (below) because Isaacson’s stories about Steve Jobs and then Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin were interesting and his advice, though predictable, was to use your creativity to do good.

Watching Isaacson, I recalled a David Brooks column that conveyed a less obvious lesson from creativity. Comparing competition and creativity, Brooks said that alone, competition draws people to “a status funnel” that points “to the most competitive colleges and … companies..” and discourages change.

However, when competition and creativity combine, we get disciplined, reliable human capital and unique goods and services. The result is “creative monopolies” that dominate new markets and produce our Ben Franklins, Albert Einsteins and Steve Jobses.

Your opinion?

Sources and Resources: Each of Walter Isaacson’s 3 recent biographiesSteve Jobs, Einstein and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, was excellent as was the NY Times David Brooks column, “Creative Monopoly.” And here, at econlife, you can see how Malcolm Gladwell looks at competition and creativity.

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