A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink

Is the MFA the new MBA?


Daniel H. Pink argues that today’s knowledge workers must augment their logical and analytical abilities with conceptual and creative skills. Pink identifies a “high-concept, high-touch” world and then delineates six key traits knowledge workers should cultivate. Pink supports his assertions with a flurry of statistics, factoids, and case studies: A Whole New Mind is more of a popular science book than a college textbook. But it is a quick, engaging read, and at the end of every chapter, Pink offers a “Portfolio” with advice for developing each of the six traits.

Delving into some soft psychology, Pink begins by defining L-directed and R-directed thinking:
Some people seem more comfortable with logical, sequential, computer-like reasoning. They tend to become lawyers, accountants, and engineers. Other people are more comfortable with holistic, intuitive, and nonlinear reasoning. They tend to become inventors, entertainers, and counselors . . . .

Call the first approach L-Directed Thinking. It is a form of thinking . . . that is characteristic of the left hemisphere of the brain—sequential, literal, functional, textual, and analytic. [It is] ascendant in the Information Age [and] exemplified by computer programmers . . . . Call the other approach R-Directed Thinking. It is a form of thinking . . . that is characteristic of the right hemisphere of the brain—simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual, and synthetic. [It is] underemphasized in the Information Age [and] exemplified by creators and caregivers . . . . (26)
Pink’s thesis is not that R-Directed thinking is superior to L-Directed, but that modern workers need to utilize both attitudes in order to thrive.

Pink argues that we have actually surpassed Drucker’s Information Age and entered the “Conceptual Age.” Pink identifies three forces at work: Asia, Automation, and Abundance. The first two are threats to today’s knowledge workers. Programmers in China and accountants in India can perform the same tasks as white-collar workers in the U.S., but for much less money (which allows them to earn a comparatively upper-middle class lifestyle overseas). Secondly, as computers become more sophisticated, L-Directed tasks will increasingly become automated. Consumers can go online to file their taxes, download divorce contracts, or obtain basic medical diagnoses; accountants, lawyers, and doctors who only fill out paperwork will become obsolete. And, finally, in our age of material abundance, products must do more than compete on the level of utility.
The typical person uses a toaster at most 15 minutes per day. The remaining 1,425 minutes of the day, the toaster is on display. In other words, 1 percent of the toaster’s time is devoted to utility, while 99 percent is devoted to significance. (80)
Products must appeal to customers’ aesthetic sensibilities in order to stand out.

Pink’s six traits are Design, Story, Empathy, Symphony, Play and Meaning. The first four refer to communication skills. Well-designed products are easy for humans to use (the 2004 Palm Beach ballots illustrate the perils of poor design). Stories weave disparate facts into a memorable whole; likewise, symphony is the ability to connect seemingly unrelated information and to think holistically. Finally, empathetic workers yield higher results (doctors who build relationships with their patients achieve higher rates of recovery, and this ability is more important than IQ, performance in medical school, hospital funding, or any other measure). Play and Meaning are ways to make the workplace more engaging.

On the whole, these are traits that cannot be replicated by computers and tend to become lost in long-distance telecommunication. These six senses add a human component to a service. Pink predicts that they will still be in demand in the immediate future.