San Diego Business Journal Commentary , John M. Eger

Apple Computer's iPod is often cited as an example of the kind of innovation most people are talking about when they say we need to be innovative.

Providing easy, legal access to lots of songs (iTunes.com) was something no one had yet managed. It was not simply making a slick piece of hardware; it was the design of a whole system that made Apple the leader of the innovation economy.

Similarly, BusinessWeek points out it wasn't (Thomas) Edison's development of the light bulb that marked his genius and ensured his place in history, but his design of an entire system to produce and distribute electricity.

As we talk about the foreshadowing of a whole economy based upon creativity and innovation, the dawn of the "Creative Age," as the Nomura Research Institute put it, we are more acutely aware of the importance of reinventing our business strategies, our corporations, our communities, our schools, our housing and land-use policies, and more.

Nothing can remain the same if we are to survive, let alone succeed, in this new global economy.

Perhaps we can start by redesigning our high school and college curricula to focus on preparing students for this new competitive, innovative and creative age.

Bridge The Chasm

The IIT Institute of Design in Chicago, for example, reportedly has found a way to "bridge the chasm between business and design." It defines design as "a core methodology of innovation" and as such, it argues, represents the key to new inventions and innovation itself.

While creative industries, according to the Americans for the Arts, are defined as "arts-related," creativity and innovation are vital to the success of all businesses. And we need to focus more on training the next generation of leaders for the Creative Age.

Business schools across America are already rethinking their curricula, too, as the Master of Fine Arts is as valued to business as the revered M.B.A. In 2004, the Harvard Business Review listed the M.F.A. as one of the top 10 hot new ideas of the year.

There is now no doubt that the industrial economy is giving way to the creative economy. Corporations and communities are at another crossroads.

Attributes that made them ideal for the 20th century could cripple them in the 21st, so they will have to change dramatically.

High Ground

If the greater San Diego region , indeed all America's great cities and counties , can capture the high ground in the effort to play any kind of leadership role in the new global economy ... it will do so because the hearse is now at the back door of our current economic malaise.

Our federal deficit is huge and growing; our systems of education at almost every level are broke; and worse, we seem not yet to have awakened to the fact that the rest of the world now has a plan to compete with us.

Most economists now seem to agree that the emerging so-called "creative and innovative" economy represents America's salvation. The game is changing, as BusinessWeek argued in its thoughtful piece last year: "It isn't just about math and science anymore," the article said (though those are surely important disciplines and greatly aided by an infusion of the arts). "It's about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation."

Unless we awaken to the realities, our graduates will not find the work they want and need, the purchasing power of the average family will continue its downward spiral and the state of America's prowess in both the economic and political arena will be lost.

John M. Eger, Van Deerlin chair of communication and public policy at San Diego State University, is a member of the Envision San Diego Partnership, a media forum for discussing public policy issues affecting the region.