(Written for Oklahomans For the Arts newsletter September 2011)

For the last 10 years or so, those “in-the-know” in Oklahoma City have been tossing around the idea of the Creative Class. The term comes from Richard Florida’s book “The Rise of the Creative Class” about creativity and its effects on economic development. Although I don’t agree with all of Florida’s assertions, I do see the tremendous value of creative thinking for business, government and non-profit leadership.

But let’s be honest, Oklahoma has not always been the swiftest at embracing new ways of thinking or getting things done. I can tell you from personal experience, even with all the lip service the Creative Class concept has received, that the power of innovative thinking is still being overlooked, or at the very least misinterpreted.

Members of the Creative Class combine intelligence, education and visionary thought into a well-rounded and highly effective employee, consultant or board member. No reason to tell them to “think outside the box” because they ignore the box.

How does your business get ahead of the competition? Have a bigger, better roster of creative employees in leadership roles. The next game-changing product, innovative marketing campaign or technological breakthrough will be born from original and imaginative thinkers.

But yet, everyday I see business and civic leaders fall back on a “how we’ve always done it” mentality. They hire the same people for outdated job descriptions and celebrate mediocrity in a nice suit. Many leaders are still only looking for followers. Change can be hard for some.

On the flip side, we’ve all witnessed how being open to new ideas and questioning how things work often produce the dynamic results. Empowering employees to take creative approaches often garners the best results. Take a look at Google, Facebook and Tom’s Shoes to see business successes born from taking a new and different approach.

With Oklahoma’s current success and growth, comes fantastic opportunities to embrace the Creative Class. The bright future of our great state can be even brighter by harnessing the power of creative thought and taking a chance on something new.