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A friend of mine was explaining to me the other day why he’d decided to stay in his job, despite being passed over for promotion.

The company’s final salary pension scheme was most attractive, he insisted, and he only had another 16 years to stick it out. Roll on early retirement.

He won’t appreciate me saying this, but my friend is an endangered species. He’s spent all his working life with the same firm: he’s what the American commentator William Whyte, writing in 1956, called ‘organisation man’.

Whyte worried that we’d all end up as organisation men and women whose future was determined by our employers.

We know now how wrong he was. A host of modern commentators have charted the fragmentation of the world of work, the rise of the ‘knowledge economy’ and the pivotal role of creativity and choice in determining which places and people succeed.

So in this new creative, sexy, entrepreneurial, rollercoaster economy, are the organisation men and women going the way of the dinosaurs? Not quite. Try visiting your local town hall or government department.

What will strike you isn’t the corporate image – these places are often liberal about dress codes – but, too often, the corporate subservience.

The ethos of public service frequently comes at the price of personal servitude: initiative and invention are viewed with suspicion.

And that’s worrying, because these are the people charged with nurturing economic and social creativity.

Despite government protestations that the shackles are being broken, organisation man and woman still rules.

Last week officials issued a ‘draft handbook of definitions’ for the 198 national indicators for the local government performance framework. The good news?

There used to be 1,200 indicators, and this is a consultation document. The bad news? Please limit your comments to the methodology.

The idea that you can sow the seeds of creativity to a rhythm of indicators and targets is a bit like writing symphonies for Stalin: it has been done, but aren’t there better ways of making music? There are encouraging signs.

This week Sheffield’s Peace Gardens and Winter Gardens won the Academy of Urbanism’s ‘great place’ award.

The gardens are a municipal project – and they’re exciting, creative places enjoyed by the whole community. Local government can do it – a shame, though, that such achievements should still be considered exceptional.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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