Richard Florida - a man who probably needs no introduction for those of you even slightly engaged in creative and cultural industries debate - has long championed the role of tolerance in our cities. It forms a key component of his ‘Three T’s’ to urban success - Technology, Talent and Tolerance. For me, this is a lazy, popularist, purely alliterative use of terminology, which is insensitive both to how multi-cultural communities function and to how creativity and innovation occur in cities.
The role of openness and diversity has been widely written about, most often in terms of a cities competitiveness (Florida, 2002; Florida, 2008) and the resultant potential for economic growth (Jacobs, 1989). It is thought that the strengthening of bonds between community members creates a safe space, for democratic participation and sharing (Brown, 2007; Choi et al., 2003), within which members don’t self-censor their ideas in favour of consensus (Nijstad, & Paulus, 2003, p. 331). The creation of this space, governed by a participative and democratic leadership which empowers members (Choi et al., 2003, p. 215), is thought to increase the potential for the community to be innovative by allowing for both convergent and divergent thought processes:
‘Divergent thinking can be seen in terms of the need to take different perspectives and to generate alternative solutions when faced with a problem-solving or decision-making task, whereas the need for convergent thinking can be seen in a group’s need to evaluate alternatives and choose one to use (Bartel et al., 2003, p. 34).’
So, we need more from communities than being socially liberal and accepting in the Floridian sense. We need questions to be asked, difference to be investigated, and authentic dissent to be encouraged. This is not just about critical, healthy and cooperative urban living, it’s about the very nature of the creative process.
Encouraging conflict, dissent and diversity is thought to increase the innovative and creative potential of workgroups (Barthelt et al., 2003: Janis, 1982: Leavitt et al., 1995: Nemeth, 1995: Nemeth, & Nemeth-Brown, 2003). Avoiding creative consensus, or ‘groupthink’ (Janis, 1982), is considered crucial for creativity and innovation, and creating diverse networks is thought to be important for conflict and dissent, which in turn, benefits the creative process; ‘dissent is a liberator of thought and, perhaps more important, a stimulus to divergent and creative thought (Nemeth, & Nemeth-Brown, 2003, p. 72).’
Florida is right – we need communities defined by a sense of trust and sharing, but importantly, we also need communities that are inquisitive and curious. Much more than a tolerance of diversity, we need cities which greet diversity and convergent thinking with a critical and responsive sense of curiosity.