Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Whole New Mind

In between lots of other duties, I've been sneaking a look at Daniel H. Pink's A Whole New Mind after a hearty recommendation for it last week by another blogger. It's a book I'd like to require all my colleagues to read, especially the ones who fight interdisciplinarity.

The thesis of the book is that the right-brain oriented thinking, which has been traditionally valued less than the cold logic of left-brain oriented thinking, will be key to success in the new internet-fueled information culture. While this book is most often pitched to business audiences, it's got some terrific recognitions of trends we can see all around us.

He talks about the changes brought by Abundance, Asia, and Automation (i.e. high relative wealth, outsourcing of jobs and computers) and the resulting "Conceptual Age" we're living in now. If you want to thrive in this age, you need to be doing work that has significance as well as value, that cannot be outsourced to someone who can be paid much less, and cannot be done by a machine. To achieve this, you should focus on the six senses that this age desperately needs:


We have all kinds of goods that are more or less the same thing and the prices are close enough together that our choices come down to taste. You buy the phone that looks cool to you. It isn't enough anymore that something is functional -- you want it to look good, too. People have become so much more savvy about design: Pink has a font test in the book and the amazing thing is that probably most people could get it right because we think about things like font now.


This is an easy one for me, because I already know the strength of it, but think: facts have to be memorised, but if you give them in a story, people can remember. How much of history do people get wrong because they know Shakespeare's plays and can remember speeches that never happened, facts that he got wrong? Our brains are wired for storytelling.


Or more accurately (but less metaphorically) synthesis: tying together disparate threads, seeing the big picture, making connections that no one has noticed before and weaving them into a coherent whole. it goes against the educational thrust of this country, which is ever-increasing specialty.


You can tell that businesses have a long way to go with this one, but even they're learning via social media because if you get on Twitter and just shoot off press releases, no one is going to follow you. Ditto Facebook: you have to build a community. You have to listen, forge relationships, actually care about other people. Narcissism seems to have taken over the planet at present, so empathy seems to be in short supply.


People do not create their best work if they fear punishment for any mistake. They will always go for the safe and least imaginative response. In play we experiment, let random chance have a role, and laugh. We need that, even in the midst of work. It often happens spontaneously, but we need to assure it has a place in our day.


We are bombarded with information from the time we rise until we crawl under the covers at night. How are we to sort through the assault? People want to find meaning, things that speak to their minds and hearts. Some people work all their lives and then try to find meaning once they've retired. People who hate their jobs long for holidays of idleness. More and more people refuse to accept work that is not meaningful to them in some fundamental way. They don't have the same "reverence for riches" that the weird Puritan capitalism in this country created.

These are all innate human traits, but ones that quite often our left-brain leaning culture has suppressed as less valuable than reason and logic. We need reason and logic, but we need purpose, play and fulfillment as well.

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