Richard Florida Exposed


A Critique

The Creative Class was defined by North American academic Richard Florida; and NEOs were identified by the Social Intelligence Lab, a social research institute based in Australia and North America.

Florida combined all occupations he could identify as innately ‘creative’ to produce a demographic segment of creative people. The US government’s Economic Research Service (ERS) found that Florida’s Creative Class was simply a proxy for any job requiring higher levels of education (check the ERS website): “In practice, this turned out to be virtually all occupations where incumbents tend to have high levels of schooling.”

At the Social Intelligence Lab we combined 194 attitudinal, behavioral and spending factors to identify the mindset underpinning the consumers with both (a) the highest social intelligence; and (b) the highest spending behavior. Because of their influence on society, politics and economic wellbeing, we called them the new economic order (NEO). NEOs are 4 times more likely than the average person to have a university degree and have an average social intelligence quotient (SQ) of 140 (compared to the 100 average of the population).


Both the Creative Class and NEOs are well educated and creative.

Both NEOs and the Creative Class live in urban settings: hotbeds of artistic activity; centres of aesthetic and ethical commitment: imaginative, professional, evolving communities. In short they seek out intelligent cities like Denver (Colorado), Vancouver (Canada), San Jose (California), Melbourne (Australia), San Francisco (California).

Both NEOs and the Creative Class dominate professional and executive roles; account for the majority of discretionary spending (93 per cent of NEOs are in the top third of discretionary spenders in the economy) and opt for quality ahead of price and a ‘deal’.

When ERS applied more rigorous modeling to Florida’s approach however, they found that the urban dwelling Creative Class accounted for 23 per cent of the US adult population. When the Social Intelligence Lab applied the 194 NEO behavioral, attitudinal and spending factors to the US population, we found that NEOs accounted for 24 per cent of the adult population.

Of the 10 top NEO cities in the United States, 7 are on Richard Florida’s top 10 Creative City list.


Applying a critical analysis to Florida’s Creative Class construct, what emerges is a socio-economic profile with two basic factors: education and occupation. This is a passable proxy for the highest level of socio-economic profiling (ABs are the top quintile of socio-economic value i.e. the highest educated, the highest income, and the highest occupation). Even though there are only 3 factors in Socio-Economics (compared with 194 for NEOs), it’s a reasonable demographic segmentation. That said, it is just a demographic segmentation. And the Creative Class only has two of its defining factors.


Both Florida’s Creative Class and NEOs are market-leading typologies. Florida’s because he has done a great job in popularizing a relatively limited demographic segmentation methodology; and NEOs because of its social methodology, depth of behavioral and attitudinal insights, and its robust root database (120,000 respondents each year from North America, Britain, Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia).

A final piece of analysis: In good news for Richard Florida, 52 per cent of the Creative Class fit the NEO typology. In other words, 52 per cent of those in the Creative Class are socially intelligent, high-value NEOs. The bad news is that 48 per cent aren’t.