The creative class that runs your data centres

There’s nothing like watching two nearly-naked, muscle-bound bald men coiling around each other’s bodies to get you thinking about how innovative Toronto is.

That was the spectacle greeting the business elite of Canada’s largest city last night at the Toronto Board of Trade’s 120th annual gala dinner. They were Cirque Du Soleil performers, and they did their thing while the rest of us ate a fancy dinner in the bowels of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. One balanced his entire body with one hand on the other’s head. Then one wrapped his legs around the other’s neck. Then there was a lot of bending and, well, as a guy sitting next to me said, “I realize it’s not politically correct to say this, but I find this a little . . . eeesh.”

You could say that about the entire event.

The theme of the evening was creativity, in honour of keynote speaker Dr. Richard Florida, author of The Rise of The Creative Class. He preached his usual message: That Toronto, his adopted home, must recognize creativity as an important resource and embrace diversity in order to attract the most talented people. He was speaking to an audience of 1,600 people, and in the reception beforehand I took careful note (as I always do, for some reason) of any people who looked to be under age 30 and any people who were not white. I squeezed my way from one end of the elbow-room-only crowd to the other, and saw exactly one handsome black man. I didn’t even see many Asians. And forget the youth quotient: as much as the high-tech next generation were referenced, this was pure Fogeyville.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, although Toronto Board of Trade’s new CEO, Carol Widing, did talk about wanting to transcend its image of what she called the “cigar smoking, handshake deal-making” reputation the organization has historically had. The company is signing up diverse, technology-savvy members such as Telus (which was announced last night). The board has started a Technology Innovators breakfast series as part of its ICT program, and it’s formed alliances with the people behind DemoCamp and other parts of the startup community.

All this is good stuff. It’s just that when you attend a black-tie gathering with such rarefied company as mayor David Miller, provincial ministers and the head of major firms, you can’t help thinking about all the people left behind. In this case, I kept thinking about the IT managers who were probably still at work keeping businesses running while a video with all their names was running for the Toronto Board of Trade dinner’s audience. When you talk about creativity, you have to talk about the people who come up with ways to connect with customers, partners and suppliers in new ways, who manage enormous amounts of data and do it all at minimal costs. Instead, it’s often the senior executives and marketing staff who end up getting invited by their companies. The concept of IT-business “alignment” seems to end when the parties behind.

Of course, a lot of the people who work in IT departments probably aren’t pining to put on tuxedos and ball gowns. But that’s not the point. If you’re celebrating the companies that make Toronto great, or how business has changed over the last 120 years, there should be a spot at the table for the people who helped revolutionize the enterprise. A lot of the growth and prosperity our firms have enjoyed is a direct results of the technology talent they have employed, and the guests at that gala might have interrupted their back-patting to reflect on their contributions. IT has always been kind of a behind-the-scenes thing. But on nights like this, they deserved to be a part of the scene, too.

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