The Banker Who Loved Hippies!

Michael Phillips is a maverick, even by the wildly iconoclastic standards of the San Francisco Bay Area.

He was one of the principal founders of MasterCard in 1966. This innovation ushered in a revolution of consumer credit and debt that our society is still trying to get a grip on 40 years later.

Phillips is also a staunch conservative in most ways.

He despises big government and left-wing academics; believes that the threat of global warming is greatly overstated and that the threat of Islamic radicals is seriously underplayed by the mainstream media; and that “commerce, not compassion” is the only viable road to world peace.

The tagline on his blog is, “I love commerce. Commerce and technology define the ‘modern world.’ Both thrive on meritocracy, diversity and openness.” (

But Phillips has always loved and helped hippies. Perhaps this makes Phillips the real grandfather of the creative economy movement. The first hippies were American-born and -bred freethinkers and apostles of self-determination. They did the initial R&D for an increasingly technological and leisure-based society.

Their “free love” led to the cultural norm of serial monogamy. Their tofu, sprouts, brown rice and granola gave us the Whole Foods organic lifestyle. Their proclivity for electronics gave us the Apple computer, aka “the hippie computer,” and the Well, which was the first widely used interactive Web site. Their penchant for comfortable, flowing clothes and spaces lead to Dockers pants and the flexible, low-partition office landscape, not to mention Casual Friday. Herbal tea, tai chi and mind/body therapies morphed into the multibillion-dollar alternative medicine movement. And the list just goes on…

New York Times columnist David Brooks offers an insightful and humorous look at this cultural and economic revolution in his book “BoBos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There.” (“BoBo” is an abbreviated reference to Bourgeois Bohemians.) Check out reviews of the book on

Getting back to Michael Phillips and the early ’70s hippie San-Fran scene puts us in the Briar Patch.

This was probably the first and only real business incubator that was created without government, corporate or foundation funds. In fact, Phillips literally gave away his consulting expertise…which for a banker is probably the ultimate gift of love.

Phillips helped free spirits harness their ambitious visions and energy to the demanding structures and disciplines of a profitable and sustainable business.

His expertise help create the Palo Alto Computer Learning Center, where Steve Jobs met Steve Wozniak; the original store that created The Body Shop chain; and Margo St. James’ prostitute’s union.

Today’s Tampa Bay is no “Hippie Haven.” But it is a “Boomer Town.”

Perhaps some aging baby boomers with stellar establishment credentials (but who were somewhat anti-establishment in their youth) will start interacting with the current crop of young hipsters/activists/artists/entrepreneurs.

Our Bay Area could become a hotspot for successful new and creative businesses over the next decade. But we need to create our own Briar Patches. Thank you, Michael Phillips, for showing us what is possible when the marketplace meets flower power.

The F-word & what to do about it!

I’m not talking about the four-letter F-word. I’m talking about the seven-letter one.

The short vulgarism has become so commonplace in American daily life that it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow in most social situations, on radio shows or in Hollywood movies. But the other F-word can still make the most sophisticated and streetwise person blush, squirm and sob behind locked doors.

Still don’t know what it is?

Let me spell it out: F-A-I-L-U-R-E!

Virtually no one in American society wants to be a failure or associated with failure. The country is about SUCCESS!

That is why creative people will always be a very small part of the mainstream American economy — although they will play an increasingly pivotal part.

Real creativity is about repeated failure. It is built upon endless experimentation, play, free association and the thinking of truly uncomfortable thoughts. Jim Adams, who was a distinguished professor of engineering at Stanford University and a key player at the Jet Propulsion Lab in NASA’s heyday, expressed this sentiment during a lecture more than 30 years ago: The truly creative person has an appetite for sustained ambiguity, contradiction, complexity, frustration and initial failure — basically, everything that would send a regular person racing to a psychiatrist for a big bottle of Zoloft.

Adams was both a proponent and a skeptic of small-scale creative ventures. As one of Silicon Valley’s most esteemed academics and consultants, he educated and influenced some of our nation’s most creative and successful entrepreneurs. But he knew the statistics of success, which have not budged much in three decades.

Only about 8 percent of working Americans are involved in a startup business in any given year. Fully 50 percent of these ventures will fail within five years, and 50 percent of the remaining ones will fail in 10. Almost none of these creative enterprises will be around with the original entrepreneurs at the helm 20 years later.

There are roughly 240,000 professional artists in the U.S., out of a total work force of approximately 150,000,000. Even without a calculator, you can grasp that the number of creative people who are strong enough to defy parental hopes and dreams for a safe, high-status profession is statistically insignificant.

It is no wonder that being a teacher or administrator in the truly creative domains of painting, sculpture, music, dance or literature generally pays a lot better than actually engaging in creative activity in the marketplace. This is in stark contrast to the salary of a typical professor or dean at a college of law, medicine or business to a mid to high level practitioner of the discipline. They are penalized for being in academia.

In mainstream businesses and government agencies, creativity can be a career killer. Any executive or manager who is repeatedly associated with new and failed ideas is usually fired or quietly whisked off to organizational Siberia. That is why high-powered, outside consultants can earn a fortune championing innovative designs and iconoclastic policies. They are professional fall guys and gals. The person in charge has covered his or her tailbone by temporarily retaining prestigious hired guns.

The reason that the stigma of failure is so pervasive and so debilitating is its social utility.

In technologically advanced societies the “creative deviant” individual is often shunned, shamed, or made into a figure of fun. How many parents of any class really want their children to be “starving” artists, “struggling” actors, musicians, singers, dancers, or “independent” filmmakers as opposed to doctors, lawyers, business executives, engineers, or scientists?

Literally, the first question an adult creative person is asked in most social situations is — “Can you really earn a living at that?”

In America, it is somewhat easier to be a creative nonconformist because of our frontier mentality and multicultural history. But it still exacts a high price. I never met a truly rugged individualist who had an easy life — although they sure put a positive spin on it.

A well-functioning and orderly society can tolerate and employ only so much creativity and atypical behavior. The consensus reality is that most of us have to play by the rules most of the time…and it is probably a good thing.

The big, innovative leaps and breakthroughs are achieved by a handful of geniuses. Think Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Marie Curie, Duke Ellington, Pablo Picasso, George Lucas, etc.

At this point, you might ask: What does a “regular” creative individual do to both survive and prosper? Well, there are no easy or entirely satisfactory answers; but there are always creative possibilities.

An ambitious and creative grad should probably try to land a job with a high-profile, innovative company such as Apple, Disney, Google, Hallmark, Electronic Arts, Chiat/Day, Ogilvy & Mather, National Geographic, Wieden+Kennedy, HarperCollins, Fox, MSNBC, etc. These established creative operations have the resources to groom talent and make creative failure just a routine business expense.

Those fortunate creative baby boomers in their 50s who are professionally successful must figure out how to gracefully pass the torch to their younger colleagues and move on to their next challenge.

Midcareer creative professionals between the ages of 30 to 45 will typically have the hardest row to hoe. This age bracket coincides with the formation of a family. Life at this stage is high on responsibilities to others and low on personal flexibility. All I can say, if you choose to have a child and open a business at roughly the same time, is that you will get gray hair and a furrowed brow like the author of this column.

For the childless midcareer creative professional, these are your salad days. Don’t waste your valuable energy bickering with a spouse or significant other; take exotic vacations, and please contribute the maximum dollar amount to your IRA and/or 401(k). I know that these little bons mots sound like something you would find inside a fortune cookie, but seriously consider them.

Finally, do yourself a favor and read the Harvard Business Review OnPoint/Executive Edition/Spring magazine, which is devoted to “The Creative Company.” I bought a copy at Borders.

If you want to enhance your chances for creative and financial success at any point in your career and not be the dreaded F-word, you must know and understand what the real decision-makers in American business might be thinking.

Here are five relevant books you can find on —

Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas by James L. Adams

Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself by Daniel Pink

The Elephant and the Flea: Reflections of a Reluctant Capitalist by Charles Handy

The Tao of Abundance: Eight Ancient Principles for Living Abundantly in the 21st Century by Laurence Boldt

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius translated by Martin Hammond

Take this job and…

Roughly half of our nation’s workers are not satisfied with their jobs. Young workers are the least satisfied, while older workers are considerably more satisfied (probably because they get to retire sooner).

For many of our parents and grandparents, the idea of job satisfaction was meaningless. It would not compute. One worked to eat and was truly grateful to have a steady job. Satisfaction revolved around home, family, friends, church, baseball and the neighborhood bar.

It would be easier to explain a Carnival cruise to a nomadic desert Bedouin than to explain “self-actualization” and “human potential” to a man who fought in World War II or a woman who struggled to raise a family during the Great Depression.

But for younger workers who benefited either directly or indirectly from the general affluence of the 1990s, there is a yawning chasm between their job expectations and the reality of increasing technological complexity in the workplace.

Two long-term trends are now on a collision course in the American workplace.

The first is the widely held belief in “The American Dream,” the idea that hard work, honesty and personal initiative will pay off through ever-rising standards of living for today’s workers, their children and their grandchildren.

The second trend is an increasingly productive and efficient Global Economy — which is just a contemporary manifestation of the “scientific management” pioneered by F.W. Taylor in the early part of the 20th century. In contemporary terms, this boils down to two basic concepts —

  • If you can measure it, you can manage it better.
  • Any task that can be mathematically modeled can be automated.

Taylorism is not some sort of historical curiosity; rather, it’s the major source of anxiety and heartbreak for both low-level service workers and high-level technical professionals. Just consider the plight of Publix grocery store personnel, whose performance can be so carefully monitored and analyzed that they must continually exceed their own benchmarks or be penalized. See Publix pay fallout: Readers give their 2 cents over losing a quarter.

Ironically, the dilemma of American engineers is becoming increasingly similar to issues encountered by cashiers. If they are not constantly improving and adding measurable economic value to their tasks, the work will go overseas or be handled by ever-more-powerful computers. The business logic is crystal-clear — if we want to enjoy an abundance of inexpensive and high-quality consumer products, a sizable number of American workers should expect stagnant wages and deteriorating benefits.

Perhaps the one bright trend in this conflicted picture of American labor is the growth of the Creative Economy. The traditional mantra for independent creative types has always been “I am as good as my last job.”

We never expected to have lifetime employment, sweetheart union contracts or someone else to think for us. For the most part, highly creative and artistic people operate at the margins of mainstream business. We provide all sorts of services and products that are concerned with beauty, grace, and human expression. Our financial expectations for our work roles coincide nicely with a workplace that increasingly rewards the most productive and inventive.

Furthermore, we creative types generally like or even love what we do and we take pride in the fruits of our labor. I rarely meet a seasoned professional painter, graphic designer, musician, filmmaker, writer, choreographer, art therapist, etc., who was suffering a “crisis of meaning” about their craft. Maybe a crisis of direction, style or vision, but not a crisis of meaning.

Sure, there is the usual complaining about how the world refuses to recognize one’s super-sized genius. But whining and self-aggrandizement have always been an integral part of the creative scene. (Check out the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini.)

I am frequently confronted by friends and acquaintances who are conventionally successful lawyers, doctors, accountants, managers and teachers. They are all grandmasters of the passive-aggressive game. My apparent crime against humanity is that I seem to be enjoying life a lot more they are. And that doesn’t seem quite fair in their cosmic scheme of things.

But I assure these “winners” that as a balding and beleaguered member of the creative class, my life isn’t getting any better…it’s just that their jobs are getting worse.

The Tale of the Three Masons & the Meaning of Creative Work

In a medieval French town, there were three masons hard at work on a construction site. Each was squaring up a large granite block. It was a hot, humid morning and the men were sweating profusely from the exertion.

A boy about 11 years old was watching them intently. Finally, he walks up to the first mason and asks him what he is doing. The burly workman answers that he is trying to stay out of the poorhouse. Then the boy walks over to the second mason and repeats the same question. The mason answers that he is working at an honest job to support his wife, two children and aged parents. Finally, the boy asks the third mason what he was doing. The skilled craftsman first looks up at the sky and then squarely at the child and replies, “I am building a cathedral.”

This old story is an appropriate lens through which to look at our individual creative lives. The concept of higher purpose — not in the strict theological sense — is a barely visible golden thread that ties together the work of the major proponents of the Creative Economy. Among the proponents are Daniel Pink, John Howkins and Richard Florida. Check out their Web sites.

I have friends and colleagues who work in creative fields in Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Portland, Maine. Some of them are at are at the top of their game professionally and are making really good money; others are facing sustained financial hardship and uncertainty.

Surprisingly, there is little correlation between their financial circumstances and life satisfaction. The ones who found the most meaning in their creativity — not in worldly success — look back over three or four decades of creative toil and see an unfinished cathedral of beauty, grace and ingenuity and truly rejoice in their creativity.

Others just see what they did not get out of their creative careers and ask themselves, “Is this all there is?”

Here are links to three excellent books that explore issues of meaning and the creative life:

Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

Evolving Self by Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi

New Media vs. The Movies

From all the rumblings in the media, it sounds as if Gov. Crist and the state legislature are going to throw some real money at Florida’s nascent movie industry.

Can you blame them?

Hollywood-style cinema is sexy, hip, happening, young and big biz — talk about the “creative economy” angle!

But as a wise old man once told me, “Anything that is too good becomes no good.”

It is not as though the movers and shakers in New York City, Toronto, Wilmington, N.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle and even the soggy state of Louisiana missed this movies-are-money thing.

These folks are plenty savvy, well-funded and have their eye on the prize. After all the giddy hoopla, can Florida in general and the Tampa Bay area in particular, win in the Darwinian game of big-league moviemaking?

But more important to policymakers and taxpayers who do not have stardust in their eyes is that Hollywood might be in structural decline; its heyday is probably over and the smart money is quietly leaving the table.

The most provocative analysis of this “structural decline” was a short article, The Movie Magic Is Gone, in the Los Angeles Times by noted media critic Neal Gabler.

But let us consider another scenario: What if for every state dollar thrown into feature film development, we threw just a thin dime into new media, including Webcasting, podcasting, digital animation and online learning and publishing? Just a few hundred thousand dollars per year in Florida (which is chicken feed by Tallahassee standards).

The potential return in money, creative jobs and cultural prominence could be astounding in 20 years.

I met the two “Ask A Ninja”guys at PopTech!2006 in Camden, Maine. They have created Webcasts that have garnered an audience of 20 million regular viewers.

These online shows were created at virtually no cost.

At our chance meeting last October, these 20-somethings had yet to earn much in the way of money from their webcasts and at least one of their moms was worried sick that her hip son didn’t have a good computer job with a nice cubicle and a regular paycheck.

But the young entrepreneurs are talking to “the suits” in the corporate media. The bottom line is this: These digital “ninjas” are leading the way into the media frontier, not just slogging through the old swamp.

Here are links to both the Ninjas and PopTech:;

We’ve got talented, edgy kids and fine schools. The University of Central Florida, Ringling School of Art and Design, University of Tampa, and the International Academy of Design and Technology are pumping out ambitious, well-trained graduates.

Let us invest a few taxpayer dollars to create low-cost New Media business incubators down here.

The best storytellers and metaphor-makers are going to win BIG on small screens.

The Boomers Are Coming! The Boomers Are Coming!

I sometimes feel like a middle-aged Paul Revere.

Rather than taking a midnight ride warning the Massachusetts colonists of the movement of British troops, I am continually alerting my fellow Tampa Bay Creatives of the imminent arrival of tens of thousands of Yankee boomers to the region. And they are coming en masse over the next 10 years.

But instead of being greeted with either glee or alarm, my urgent message has mostly garnered shrugs and yawns from many in regional creative circles.

What virtually every major American metro area really wants is “The Young & the Restless.” These are 25- to 34-year-olds with MBAs, MAs, Ph.D.s and MFAs, and young bodies that do not require much costly medical intervention to keep them hopping. Local governments and foundations hire world-renowned consultants to help corral this coveted cohort.

It is widely assumed by economic development experts like Dr. Richard Florida that people in this young “creative class” are the new spark plugs who can rev up a sputtering economic engine. To add to their attractiveness, these clever and energetic young people love to spend money on the arts, gladly interact with people different from them and will remain economically competitive well into their mid-50s.

I don’t know if this vision of the creative economy will come to pass in the Tampa Bay area. There are simply are too many unknowns to hazard definitive forecasts. Imponderables include a collapse of housing and mortgage markets, inadequate public funding for education and infrastructure, and a really bad hurricane season.

What nonpartisan researchers do know right now is this:

The Tampa Bay area is one of the top destinations for soon-to-be-retiring boomers. This massive demographic migration from North to South will generate both considerable economic growth and problems.

The boomers comprise roughly 77 million Americans from age 44 to 62. They will soon be selling homes that most of them have owned for many years; accepting substantial corporate buyouts and retirement packages; and benefiting from inheritances from their parents’ estates.

Boomers are generally portrayed and parodied in the mainstream media as self-centered, self-absorbed and self-indulgent yuppies (basically, Bill Clinton at his worst). Like most stereotypes, it ignores the characteristics of the majority of this gargantuan post-World-War II generation.

On the whole, boomers are well-educated and productive, creative and well-traveled. The spirit of adventure and a “whole Earth” outlook defines much of who they are.

Don’t expect the majority of boomers to just queue for the early-bird special at the all-you-can-eat buffet. This generation dramatically and drastically transformed (for better or worse) everything that they ever touched. And the boomer penchant for novelty and experimentation will continue into their “golden years” in the Tampa Bay area.

For additional insights into baby boomers and their influence, visit the Civic Ventures Web site, The site is subtitled, “Helping society achieve its greatest return on experience.”

Also, check out the reviews on Marc Freedman’s book, Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America.

Are You a "Cultural Creative"? And Why You Should Care

A majority of CTB Buzz readers will probably see a brilliant “Cultural Creative” in the mirror sometime today.

But don’t get too impressed with your uniqueness. There are an estimated 50 million of you in the U.S. and another 80 million or so in Europe.

If you are not sure if you are a CC, simply take this quick online test to see if you meet the criteria:

It is surprising that nearly one-quarter of American adults share this unique cultural affinity but find it hard to believe that others deeply share similar holdictdicistic and globally oriented outlooks and values.

According to sociologists Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson, it is like a little secret to be kept from polite company for fear of ostracism or ridicule.

Ray and Anderson were the first to identify the increasingly influential but largely invisible subculture of Cultural Creatives. They answer basic FAQs on their Web site at

Whether you are a Cultural Creative or not, it makes sense to learn more about the phenomenon that they have become.

Cultural Creatives span all the usual political, social and economic boundaries. It is quite possible that their thinking will deeply influence American life well into this century.

Here is a very thought-provoking magazine interview with Anderson and Ray. Their book is available on

About the Columns

The purpose of these articles is to provide creative professionals and students with practical career guidance and insights into nascent trends that will influence their livelihoods.

There are lots of links included within the copy that will lead to reader to worthwhile books, reports, and documents.

Earlier versions of most these columns appeared in the Tampa Bay Buzz e-newsletter in 2007. They appeared under “CreativeShare” by Bob Barancik.

Links are listed below to the newest versions of the columns. A quick capsule summary has been provided for easy navigation of the editorial material.

Are You a “Cultural Creative”? And Why You Should Care
Summary: Academic research has identified nearly 50 million Americans from all walks of life who have an essentially creative outlook on life. There are also an estimated 80 million Cultural Creatives in Europe. Find out more about these people.

The 11 “Commandments” of a Sustainable Creative Career
Summary: Valuable advice and musings for students in the creative domains and their parents.

Celebrating 2015: Four Suggestions for the Creative “Young & Restless” from a Boomer who Cares about You.
Summary: An unprecedented demographic transformation of the American workplace is underway. Read all about it.

The Boomers Are Coming! The Boomers Are Coming!
Summary: The Tampa Bay is a premier metro-region for baby boomers seeking an “encore” creative career. They may change the “rules” of retirement and intergenerational collaboration for the entire nation.

Did You See the Gorilla?
Summary: Useful academic research on becoming lucky.

The Banker Who Loved Hippies
Summary: The story of Michael Phillips and how he helped to create the commercial counterculture and our current creative economy.

New Media vs. The Movies
Summary: Why digital new media will transform Hollywood and our perceptions of entertainment.

Take this job and…
Summary: Understanding the roots of workplace malaise.

The F-Word & what to do about it!
Summary: Understanding and overcoming our fear of failure.

The Tale of Three Masons & the Meaning of Creative Work
Summary: Reframing our attitudes towards our daily tasks.

Encouraging Words
Summary: A few sincere compliments can change lives for the better.

Dangerous Ideas
Summary: Sometimes we must breakthrough our emotional and intellectual boundaries to see new realities.

Ohio With Palm Trees
Summary: Many baby boomers and young people from the Midwest are flocking to Florida and bringing their traditional values with them. Both the sunshine state and American politics will be changed by this migration.