Sunday, June 16, 2013

BOOK TALK:  A WHOLE NEW MIND:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

 [6/16/13--I was watching Oprah Winfrey's Super Soul Sunday today and I discovered she was showing her old interview with the author Daniel Pink that discussed his book A Whole New Mind.
I recalled that I had written an article about that book at the time she was recommending it.  Given that it is once again turning up on TV, I decided to add it to my blog.  Hope any reader who finds this finds it enlightening.]

I came upon a remarkable book because of Oprah Winfrey.  That shouldn’t be a surprise because we all know that Oprah loves books and isn’t afraid to pass on a good word or two about those she especially likes.  The book is A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead Books, 2005).  Oprah tells the story herself:  “In June 2008, I was invited to Stanford University to give the commencement address.”  She had just finished reading this book by Daniel Pink and was so impressed that she wanted to share the book with as many people as possible.  And so she “ordered 4,500 copies, one for each student in Stanford’s class of 2008.”  She presented them along with another Oprah favorite book—Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth--as graduation presents.  This story led me to order the book.  Following Oprah’s model, I have also sent a copy to my granddaughter, a 2009 graduate of Michigan State University. 

            This book intrigues me in many ways.  I have been interested in the right-brain/left brain discussions over the years.  The sub-title of the book suggests that “right-brainers will rule the future.”  Early in the book the author explains how our recent society has been largely focused on left-brain thinking:  “linear, sequential, spreadsheet kind of faculties.”  Now, he says, we need more of the right-brain characteristics:  “artistry, empathy, inventiveness, and big-picture thinking.”  Ultimately, of course, the point is to balance the two, using both sides of the brain to our greatest efficiency and thereby having “A Whole New Mind.”

            The author provides a mini-history of mankind’s eras of development.
For thousands of years we lived in an agricultural age.  This involved very hands-on, physical labor.  People largely hunted or grew their own food.  The last 150 years or so, however, have been very different, and the changes along the way have happened faster and faster.  First came the Industrial Age.  With this machine age, our great manufacturing systems developed.  Mass production focused on workers favored for their physical strength and endurance.  That lasted for a while, but following World War II, technology developed automation.  In 30 years or so, the manufacturing lines moved largely from hands-on machines to automated ones, to in current days, largely computer run equipment.  What happened to the workers?  The few workers needed were no longer required to be Herculean.  Even a small woman could press a button or operate a computer.  The work was easily shipped to less expensive sites overseas. 

            This development was linked to what Pink calls the Information Age.
So now, both agriculture and manufacturing are largely a part of computerized, managed operations.  Now the major worker was “the knowledge worker.”  This was still a left-brain directed thinking process.  Daniel Pink notes that “Each year, India’s colleges and universities produce about 350,000 engineering graduates.”
Similarly, they are graduating computer specialists and business students.  Whereas in the U.S. “a typical chip designer earns about $7,000 per month; in India, she earns about $1,000.”  Is it any wonder that so many of these jobs go overseas.  The author’s explanation of how this has all happened is easy to read and understand.  We get a truly clear picture of this transition and why it has occurred.

            All of this leads us to the author’s main point:  that we are now in a very different time.  Manufacturing is largely automated.  Anyone can do it—anywhere in the world.  Computers have linked the world, and educated people, again anywhere in the world, can work with computerized functions.  Where does this leave the American worker?  What is our next step?  In other words, if someone overseas can do it cheaper, and if a computer can do it faster, what does the contemporary worker need to offer that is different and useful?  Pink’s answer is: right-brain directed thinking.  That is what this book is largely about.  He says, “I’ve distilled the answer to six specific high-concept and high-touch aptitudes that have become essential in this new era.  I call these aptitudes “the six senses.”  Design.  Story.  Symphony.  Empathy.  Play.  Meaning.  And it is to helping you understand and master these six aptitudes that I devote the second part of this book.”

            So what we find in this work is about 60 pages of highly interesting, easy reading explaining the basic background to this theory; and then about 200 fascinating and highly useful pages that tell us how to learn more R-Directed thinking.  Each of those six aptitudes develop chapters that both explain and lead the reader to complete understanding.  Each chapter follows the same pattern.
First the author thoroughly explains the concept, making it easy for the reader to grasp the point.  He includes many interesting facts, photos, and stories that make this book easy to read.  The second part of each chapter, he calls a “Portfolio.”  Here the author gets the reader right into the program with all sorts of exercises, things to do, books to read, places to explore, and websites to check-out.  Each chapter offers appropriate sources and ideas to learn how to actually use that particular aptitude.  For example, I ended up with a personal list of books I want to read and websites I want to see. 

            There is so much thoughtful, even fascinating information in each chapter that it is beyond our discussion to include any of that.  Instead, we’ll just briefly review what the author means with those six aptitudes.  “Design” involves more than the usual left-brained “function.”  Pink notes, “Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.”  Just think about how design influences us all.  Don’t we choose a product, or a home because there is something about it that just feels or looks right to us?  That involves design.  And design is largely a right-brained aptitude. 

            Today we hear lots of arguments about everything.  That is largely L-brained.  Pink says that “Story” is becoming more and more important.  “The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative.”  Writing narratives and telling stories is largely a R-brained activity. 

            What does he mean by Symphony?  He isn’t talking about music, although music is known to be quite right-brained.  What Daniel Pink means here is “putting the pieces together.”  I recall in previous studies of the right and left brain that the left brain analyzes the pieces.  The right brain sees the whole picture.
Pink says, “What’s in greatest demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis—seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries, and being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.”  Therefore “symphony” refers to a harmony, like a blend of ideas or sounds which portray the “whole picture.”

            Pink notes that logic has been very important in the past, and of course, it continues to be important, but Empathy is also needed.  Logic alone will no longer do.  In this new global society where our co-workers may be somewhere around the globe, or working at home, or come from totally different cultures, “what will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others.” 

            The author’s inclusion of “Play” as an important attribute may be surprising.  I guess I am reminded of the old proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  Pink notes the “Ample evidence [that] points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games, and humor.”  He says, “In the Conceptual Age, in work and in life, we all need to play.”

            Finally, Daniel Pink notes how contemporary society is more and more concerned about Meaning.  In the past the focus may have been on “accumulation,” but we all end up finally asking big questions about the meaning of it all.  The author notes how our material plenty has actually freed us enough from “day-to-day struggles” so that we can “pursue more significant desires:  purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.”  

            The whole point of the book is to bring these six aptitudes to our focus so that we can understand them, learn how to use them, and thereby prepare ourselves to participate in our rapidly changing world and its rapidly changing demands for new ideas.  Does mean that we will forego our left-brain aptitudes?
Daniel Pink assets that “Thinking remains necessary but [is] no longer sufficient.
For the economy of the United States to recover and to regain its position in the world, “We must perform work that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that computers can’t do faster, and that satisfies the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual demands of a prosperous time.”  In other words, we must develop our “Whole New Mind.”  This thought-provoking, but also entertaining book, is a must read for everybody, but especially for all those young folks who are entering the workplace.  This brings us back to Oprah Winfrey and her insight in deciding to present copies of this work to a graduating class from Stanford.  This book will open a lot of eyes to where we are today and how we can become better and stronger as individuals and as a country.  As one reviewer wrote:

“Will give you a new way to look at your work, your talent, your future.”