on November 14, 2005
A Whole New Mind $16.47 US, is a 2005 release from Daniel H. Pink that covers creative thinking and other aspects of success. Ostensibly geared toward career pros, this non-fiction title analyzes transitions in society as America migrates from an Information Age to a Conceptual Age economy. The text in Dan's book is not academic -- instead it is more biographical, intuitive, observational, and playful. His book is a real triple threat of content, style, and visual presentation.
Word to the wise -- you are in for a slightly different book here -- right of the bat, the author walks us through the procedure of having his brain scanned as part of a project conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington D.C. This unorthodox introduction (with four photo illustrations) is welcomed by the reader, as it gives the chapter an introspective quality. Pink shares this experience to illustrate normal brain function -- to note a few misconceptions about the way the brain divides work -- and then posits that while most people integrate both left and right brain activity, R-Directed Thinking will increasingly be relied upon in the future, by people that want to succeed in business or life.
Here is the crux of what Pink is trying to relay. America is currently organized around a cadre of accountants, doctors, engineers, executives and lawyers. These "knowledge workers" excel at the ability to acquire and marry facts to data, and these abilities are typically accrued through a series of standardized tests such as the PSAT, SAT, GMAT, LSAT and MCAT. (As an aside, Bush's test-happy Department of Education only serves to increase the number of L-Directed Thinkers, providing corporations cheap labor in abundance.) Pink asserts this regime of L-Directed Thinking in America is diminishing due to three factors: Abundance, Asia, and Automation.
Our guide Dan conjectures -- that in this age of Abundance -- appealing only to functional, logical, and rational requirements is not enough. Design, empathy, play, and other "soft" aptitudes have become the focal point for individuals and companies that want to stand out above the others in a crowded marketplace. Look no further than Apple's design-triumph, the physically appealing and emotionally compelling iPod, for quick confirmation of this notion!
Looking at trends, Pink concludes outsourcing of white-collar jobs (knowledge work) to nations in Asia will have profound "long term effects" on the economic well-being of Australia, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US. Just as factory jobs flowed out of the country during the eighties, globalization of white-collar jobs will soon follow. Consequently, most Americans will need to come up with a new skill set that is not abundant overseas.
Even if Pink is wrong, and Abundance and Asia aren't transforming America, rest assured that Automation is. In long paragraphs, Pink cites specific examples of how Computer Programming, Law, and Medicine have been radically altered by technology. You'll notice this trend in even simpler venues (like self-checkout at supermarket and department store chains) throughout the US. Implication of Pink's research? Transaction based jobs may soon start declining.
Now here are a few key items worthy of consideration -- when it comes to your present or future career track -- according to Dan. Can computers do it faster? Can overseas labor do it cheaper? Are your skills in demand? Are your skills overly abundant?
Eventually we'll all have to find new jobs, Pink theorizes. The Agricultural Age and Industrial Age have fallen away, and the Information Age is fading fast. We're hurtling into the Conceptual Age, where the majority of jobs will be held by people that create something, or by people that are capable of empathizing with others. Most of these jobs will require care, humor, imagination, ingenuity, instinct, joyfulness, personal rapport, or social dexterity.
Writer Pink explains High Concept, High Touch, avenues of growth that are likely to appear, delves into the importance of gaining an MBA or MFA, and then compares the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence in rough metaphor. He then closes Part One with two pages of observation on the baby boomer generation, and their newfound gravitation toward meaning and transcendence, and away from the allure of wealth.
Most of A Whole New Mind actually resides in Part Two, wherein Mr. Pink delineates a complex theory of the "six senses" that one could harvest to build a whole new mind. In Dan's worldview, Design is an asset above function. Story is an asset above argument. Symphony is an asset above focus. Empathy is an asset above logic. Play is an asset above seriousness, and Meaning is an asset above accumulation. After an extensive essay about each of these six components, Pink includes a "portfolio" of exercises (further reading, tools, and websites) that one could call upon to enhance this mindset, all being useful.
In the interest of keeping this review at one thousand words I've concentrated on the first half of the book -- since that is the framework that the book is built around. I will allow you the pleasure of reading the majority of part two on your own, but I'll lightly sketch some factoids that I enjoyed in the "portfolios" accompanying Dan's groupings.
on April 7, 2005
The title of the book is very appropriate. For the age that we are in, we need a whole new mind. However, the book promised a mansion, but ended up giving us an apartment. It begins like a Porsche, but ended like a VW Beetle. The author correctly diagnosed the disease of Abundance, Asia, and Automation, but prescribed the wrong medicine of six right-brain-directed (R-Directed) aptitudes.
To the author's credit, he is the first that succinctly diagnosed the major problems the Western countries are facing: Abundance, Asia, and Automation. Most people, including intellectuals and high government officials are in the coma state of not sensing the lethal effects of offshore outsourcing of high-tech jobs and R&D to the fundamental wellbeing of U.S. and other Western countries, nor the consequence of automating white collar jobs by the ever more powerful computer hardware and software. This is the first book that I know of that sounded the alarm to the great masses of the coming sea change. For this, the author ought to be congratulated.
The author has a vision that we are moving from Information Age to Conceptual Age. He said that if we have a whole new mind, we can have an economy and society that are built on the inventive, empathic and big-picture capabilities. He stresses that the main characters now are the creator and the empathizer. He argues that we need to move from high tech to high concept and high touch. These are all great ideas. However, the strategies that the author prescribed through the six R-Directed aptitudes, which consist most of the book, while adequate to battle Abundance and Automation, is hardly sufficient to overcome Asia. There are several major shortcomings to the book:
First and foremost, these six R-Directed aptitudes are not the sole possessions of the Western countries. Asian countries have them, too, and can probably master them just as well. The author seemed to forget to constantly validate his assumptions against the three questions he must answer. One of them was: Can someone overseas do it cheaper? This author has a dangerous underestimation of foreigners: "Sure. They can do low-level programming and accountancy but we still come up with the innovation and creativity." He did not notice that R&D are moving overseas to the foreign countries. For this, see [...] for more detail.
Secondly, how does the author know that these six R-Directed aptitudes are the most essential of all possible right-brain aptitudes? He never showed research evidences for these aptitudes are indeed the most important.
Thirdly, the six R-Directed aptitudes are highly subjective, social-dependent and culture-dependent. For example, design is highly culture-dependent. What is deemed elegant and tasteful design in a culture may be offensive to another. A beautiful design to you may be an average one to me. Take another aptitude, story, as another example: the contents of stories are highly culture-dependent. A story that makes sense in one culture may not make sense to another.
Fourthly, the result of developing these aptitudes, if developed to the full extent, is the further fragmentation of our world, for we have divide ourselves into smaller and smaller subjective realms. A side consequence is the fragmentation of the market for goods and services.
Above all, the solution proposed by the author is not going to be able to solve the problem of "Can someone overseas do it cheaper?"
In summary, the author deserves 3 stars for correctly diagnosed the problems, but gave the very incomplete solutions. However, I would encourage the author to continue to search for the solutions for Abundance, Asia, and Automation.
on August 9, 2011
I came across this book at the local dollar bookstore, where
for one buck, it seems hard to ever go wrong.
The premise of the book is that, to survive in the "conceptual age",
"left-brain" thinking/analysis is not sufficient, and that the most successful
people will be those who better use their right hemispheres. The author cites three
reasons for this shift to the right brain: automation and Asia (left brain rule-based tasks
are now being performed by both computers and cheaper white-collar Asian workers), and
abundance (there is more need than ever for inventors and designers).
Although there are some partial truths to his observations, in general I find this outlook a bit shallow
and myopic in perspective.
For one, the author seems to believe that this pipeline of cheap foreign labor will last forever. But we have to
remember that the US exports both knowledge and culture in enormous quantities (for example, the majority
of students who enroll in my computer-science graduate courses are from other countries;
especially China and India), and
these exports spurn more industry abroad which will have the effect of improving the quality of life abroad;
and hence driving up labor costs in those countries.
Secondly, ALL human intelligence is subject to automation, or at least an attempt to automate.
For example, playing chess requires a combination of mathematical-logical, spatial, and what the author refers to as "symphonic" intelligence. Many chess players think of themselves as artists. And many artists are inspired by
the game of chess.
Rather than limit oneself to the six right-brain skill areas identified in the book (design, story, symphony,
empathy, play, and meaning), all of which are to supposedly save us from losing our jobs, I prefer
Harvard University professor Howard Gardener's multiple intelligences; and advocate the development of all of them
to fully experience the best of what humanity has to offer. The intelligences are
1. Spatial: spatial judgment and the ability to develop novel internal images within the mind
Exercises: visiting museums, playing video games, studying geometry, designing, drawing, sculpting
2. Linguistic: the ability to use words, spoken or written
Exercises: writing a story, essay, or poetry, public speaking, reading books of all types, learning a
foreign language, acting
3. Logical-mathematical: the ability to reason, think abstractly, and have number sense.
Exercises: studying science, mathematics, and philosophy, computer programming, solving puzzles
4. Bodily-Kinesthetic: the ability to navigate within the physical world
Exercises: sports, yoga, walking, running, biking, weight lifting, dancing
5. Musical: the ability to play and appreciate music
Exercises: learning to play an instrument, listening to instrumental and orchestral music, writing a
musical composition, singing
6. Interpersonal: the ability to interact, communicate and empathize with others
Exercises: studying the art of listening; socializing, play acting
7. Intrapersonal: the ability to understand oneself, and reflect on oneself; understanding one's own needs,
personal strengths, and weaknesses.
Exercises: going for a quite walk, sitting in complete silence, meditating, keeping a journal
8. Naturalistic: the ability to relate to and observe one's natural surroundings
Exercises: going for a walk in a nature park, observing nature (birds, plants, flowers, butterflies, etc.)
For example, what the author calls "story telling", falls into linguistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.
Symphony falls within musical, spatial, intrapersonal, and possibly even naturalistic. And "play" can fall into
any number of these intelligences.
By the way, if there is an age in which we are entering, I would call it the "ubiquitous intelligence" age, in which
our personal, social, and work environments are filled with intelligent agents that help us lead more
productive, satisfying, and meaningful lives. The UA age will require us to harness all of the above intelligences
with the help of technology. And, like the conceptual age, it will require many more inventors and designers than
exist today. That is one message of the book that I do agree with. Many of these new designers and inventors will
come from the US, and many more will come from Asia, as that continent begins to further adopt western culture
In conclusion, the book did offer some interesting ideas on how to enhance work through storytelling, empathy, design, humor,
games, and finding meaning; and it did provide some good exercises for developing these traits. It seems hard to disagree that
these traits can enrich one's life and the workplace. However, if I had to give advice to someone on how to maintain their
marketability in a fast-changing world, for starters I would suggest that each day one attempt to learn something new about
his or her chosen field. Also, keep a current view of the forest, but also force yourself to learn new things that
seem challenging and move you out of your "comfort zone".
One new piece of information or added skill can make a world of difference in one's outlook and potential.
In the end each person is his or her own employer.
on May 11, 2005
Pink is absolutely right: creativity and innovation
will be a boon for post-industrial, post-information
age workers now that countries like China and India
can produce cheaper knowledge workers.
However, the economics of supply and demand will simply
do the same to this new conceptual age worker that
it did to programmers and MBAs.
Once the economy is flooded with talented designers and
creative personnel, the market will correct and wages
will fall. And many creative and brilliant "whole brain"
workers will become yet again another glut of talent.
In the end, the market favors no whole class of worker but
rather the most unique and talented of a class. And this
has always been the case.
on September 10, 2005
So what are we mortals, especially those of us in the Western Hemisphere, supposed to do in a world where computers are fast approaching humans in intelligence, all manufacturing work is moving to China, any white collar work that does not require face to face interaction is being taken on by India, and the marketplace is flooded with cheap, quality goods? Such is the question that this book seeks to address. While other, better selling authors (i.e. Friedman) are raking millions telling us the obvious (gee, those Indians are really smart, better watch out for them, and the Chinese are after your manufacturing job, etc.) Dan Pink takes a different, more practical and constructive angle on the subject, showing us instead what is left to do that can't (for now at least) be done by machines or overseas, and this involves the long neglected right hemisphere, the one right inside our skull. And you know Pink is on to something when you look at things ranging from US labor department projections showing the highest increase in professions dealing with creativity and interpersonal communications; travel agents turning into vacation consultants; and your engineer cousin or next door neighbor turned graphic designer. The evidence is everywhere that things are moving in a new direction.
Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning. In a nutshell these are the key right brain abilities that Pink considers will make the difference between success and failure into the 21st century. The bulk of the book explores these from a very practical perspective, but even better than that, it gives you pointers and actual tools for you to begin developing these on your own. While more subdued in tone than the overly enthusiastic "Free Agent Nation", this book nonetheless follows the same theme on self-actualization taking on a growing role in our lives over merely materialistic concerns. And here is the main take away from the book, because while it hooks you on your materialistic concerns over how to remain competitive, it actually takes you beyond it. Because even if you don't manage to prosper and get wealthy based on these abilities (and unless you get some left-hemisphere ones you probably won't, unless you're an artistic genius), if you think about it what Pink describes are the very qualities that distinguish us from machines, that make us fully and uniquely human. So by developing them you tap into your humanity, setting you on your way to a happier, richer life, and there's no better payoff than that.
on August 4, 2009
The central premise of this book is that people with slightly more right-brain skills will dominate the work force in the 21st century... or at least be much more important than the past 20 years. I bought this book because that is a premise I agree with, so I was curious to see how he demonstrated his point, or any advice he could offer.
What I got was page after page of uninformed conjecture, hyperbole, cliches, and self-important blather. His premise? Left-brained work has dominated the industrial age, and the next "phase" of human development is what he decided to label the "conceptual age," where right-directed people will dominate.
Really? You really think that? That's a hell of a statement... I hope you can back it up with some hard data... statistics, job growth numbers, etc? Anything?
He claims the drivers towards the "Conceptual Age" are Abundance, Asia, and Automation. That's it. No further proof. Let's take these one at a time:
Firstly, because of "Abundance", people are looking for better designs, even for ordinary household tools... thus designers become important. And apparently this is a new idea??? He believes that the words from the latest CEO of GM -- who said his job is to produce works of art that people drive -- as being somehow monumental. Oh my god! GM designs cars! They now care about "form" as well as "function!"
Really??? You really think that's a new thing? So I guess then those fins on a 1956 Chevy are there for aerodynamic purposes... and the mountains of chrome were there to make it more visible at night. Apparently the author is equally ignorant of the real drivers of the "left-brained" industrial revolution in the 19th century: the production of cheap textiles for clothing. YEP! The industrial revolution existed for the benefit of fashion designers and other "right brained" people who were tired of the ordinary abundance of the tunic. And how much of the computer revolution existed because people wanted a more "personalized" computer experience for their home or business? Ever hear of the iMac???
The author should try to do some research once in a while...
Secondly, because of "Asia," a lot of left-brian jobs -- computer programming, accounting, and legal -- are moving to Asia. Whereas right-brian jobs that require artistic design, communication, empathy, play, and meaning stay right in the USA. Since these jobs are "high-touch" jobs, they can't be outsourced.
Really??? You really think right-brain jobs cant be outsourced? I got a graphic designer in the Philippines who says differently. I got a dozen "empathy hotlines" you can call if you're feeling like killing yourself, and they'll do a hell of a lot better talking you down from the ledge than your friends or family. I also know of some really good customer support centers in India who are highly trained in empathic communication. Ever hear of teleconferencing or telepresence? Right-brained jobs are just as easily outsourced with the right technology.
Jobs are moving to Asia for one basic reason: SUPPLY AND DEMAND. Nothing more. Most American businesses prefer American workers, simply because culture differences, currency exchange rates, and time zones are a pain to deal with... but Asian workers are so much cheaper that they are worth the extra pain. However, these wages are only low in Asia because Asian industries are not big enough to demand local software developers, lawyers, and accountants. Once Asia becomes more industrialized, local businesses will be demanding up the local talent... which decreases their supply... which drives Asian wages up... which makes American talent more attractive to American businesses again.
This is just cyclical unemployment on a global scale: no more. Again... some research by the author would have been nice...
Thirdly, because of "Automation," those who just follow a well-defined process will be easily replaced by robots, computers, or Asians (apparently). In other words... technology eliminates low-skill jobs. SHOCKER! But of course, this isn't actually true. As any economics professor will tell you, technology is disruptive, but it doesn't eliminate jobs in the long run. The simple fact is that workers who learn how to use the new technology become more productive, and therefore more valuable to their employers! Yes, job responsibilities shift around a bit, but overall productivity increases, which creates more jobs in the medium term.
Then the author goes on to the second section of the book, which contains anecdotes about what skills will be important in the 21st century: design (agree), story (maybe), "symphony" (give me a break...), empathy (big agreement there), play (agree), and meaning (agree). The stories are good reading, but they are never supported by any hard data. There is evidence of a fad, but no evidence of a trend.
The single saving grace of this book are the right-brain exercises. They are pretty fun ways for a left-brain-leaning person to step out of their comfort zone and flex the right brain a little. If you find this book in the bargain bin for $5, then its worth it just for the exercises.
Otherwise, you'll probably want to avoid it...
on April 27, 2005
Run, don't walk, to pick up this book. In one fact-driven yet fun read, Pink tells a compelling story of the decline of the Information Age (driven by our penchant for left-brain thinking) and the rise of the Conceptual Age, where an equally developed right-brain is REQUIRED for survival and success.
As business people and as human beings, we are trying to make a living in a world increasingly driven by Automation, Asia and Abundance. Every professional and business leader thus will inevitably face the following questions:
Can a computer do what I / we do faster?
Can someone overseas do what I / we do cheaper?
Is what I / we are offering in demand in an age of abundance?
Abundance here refers to what Pink describes as the satisfaction, if not over-satisfaction, of the material needs of millions - thereby boosting the desire for significance, beauty and meaning in the marketplace. As costs decline and quality goes up for every product or service that can be automated or outsourced, the only real differentiator becomes what cannot be duplicated - relationships, empathy, artistry, purpose and soul.
These unique qualities are the territory of our right brains - the other half of that amazing organ in our heads that we too often to ignore in business today. The good news? Neuroscientific research over the last decade gives us much room for hope - rather than being locked into our current thinking habits, even as adults our brains can be re-trained to think a different way. Pink concludes the book by offering practical ideas for anyone to develop six critical right-brain capabilities: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning.
A quote from the book is that "Perspective is more important than IQ." My work in Fortune 100 companies with senior leaders constantly shows me the truth of that statement. The answers to the thorny questions of our times lie not in more data dredging to determine if issues like global warming are real or not. As another chap from Atlanta once said, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a @#*! The more powerful question is what is the kind of world I really want to live in? And how can I use my brain -- all of it -- to create that world and keep it vibrant, healthy and beautiful?
This book, like Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself is written for people who live in an ivory tower, a gated community, or a corporate palace. It is completely out of touch with the 90% of humanity that is comprised of the Working Poor in America, or the destitute and disenfranchised everywhere else. For that it loses one star.
However, and this is high praise from me, it is a "must read" for any knowledge worker, and I am particularly recommending it to the new breed of warrior in the U.S. Government, the Information Operations specialist. A **major** part of our government's failure at foreign policy and national security--including its failure at homeland security and its mis-steps in the global war on terror, going back to the Viet-Nam era, can be traced to a combination of excessive reliance on "metrics" (remember the "body counts?") diluted by ideological preferences absent historical or cultural contexts.
This book, while simplistic, is a superb over-view of the alternative methods of **perception**, integration, understanding, and outreach--empathy and strategic communication to others in terms they can "receive," and for that reason I consider it a "must read."
The six senses, design, story-telling (see Steve Dunning), symphony, Empathy (none to be found in this White House), Play (intertwing work and play, mixing it up to energize both), and Meaning, are well covered by this book, and in a way that makes sense, where the value of listening is clear to the reader.
It is a well-put-together book, with the right amount of white space, good illustrations, good notes and recommended readings, and over-all a pleasant and instructive contribution to my library and my reflections.
on August 17, 2005
This is a book that can make a huge difference to our personal and professional life, irrespective of what we do for a living. The world so far was dominated by L-centred professionals or those whose who predominantly excel in using the left side of the brain. The admission tests to get into the best of today's professional courses test our analytical, arithmetic and verbal skills. The good news is that we have done well so far. But the bad news is that in the industrial age followed by the information we have utilised only one half of our brain, that is the "left". Welcome to the conceptual age which demands our "right" and rightfully so.
The author first explains the functioning of the human brain , its left and right sides and what they stand for, in a very simple and non jargon approach. His personal understanding of the functioning of the brain using the fMRI scan technology may appear over simplistic to a well trained medical professional or psychologist. But the information is sufficient to guide us through the subsequent chapters that fully engage both the sides of the brain.
We now live in an era of abundance (the wide range of goods at rock bottom prices at the neighbourhood shopping mall), Automation ( computers take over repetitive jobs) and emergence of Asia ( off shoring of white collar jobs at fractional costs). Today's products and services are an outcome of sequential, analytical and logical thought process of the L-centred professions.
To succeed in the next age which is conceptual, we need to wake up and kick start the right side of our brain argues the author. For example we need abilities to synthesise not just analyse. Synthesis is the ability to assemble the parts and see the whole thing while analysis is the ability to focus on specifics. The conceptual age needs high concept and high touch, a combination of right side capabilities along with the left side strengths. These then become the winning combination to differentiate, add value and succeed.
The author lists six senses or essential aptitudes - Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, play and Meaning that are the basic ingredients of the conceptual age. A chapter for each and a good reference list ( titled portfolio section) includes books and web sites that provide us with rich source of information for further study.
The examples quoted under every topic are simply great. To cite one such example in the chapter on Story :
The queen died. The king died.
The queen died and the king died of a broken heart.
The first line conveys a fact. The second line conveys a story and we can feel the love. Stories combine context and emotion and appeal to our hearts. Unfortunately, most professionals focus on facts. Doctors interrupt patients on an average once in 23 seconds looking only for clinical data. But if they listen to the patients' stories, the context and emotion can make a big difference, in addition to the facts.
Another good example is Design. Design is the process of bringing new forms that the world has never seen. It is a combination of utility and substance. The CEO of a major car manufacturer claims that his company is in the art business and transportation is incidental. Design schools are the ones that can transform our products into things of joy. No wonder this profession has started gaining so much attention even in countries like India. ( Please refer to my review of the book " The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. I am glad that my daughter has since chosen a course on Accessory Design and I am now able to appreciate her wisdom!)
The message is clear. The professional of the future is one who can appreciate the finer aspects of life that includes beauty, meaning and happiness.
I enjoyed every moment of this book. Guess whom I am gifting it to ?
on January 1, 2012
What I can add to the absolutely justified bad reviews of this book is this: Pink's speculations are based on a complete neglect of the history of aesthetic thought. At the base of his claim that we have reached an epoch of creative, holistic, right brain-dominated thinking is the assumption that aesthetic and emotional concerns became suddenly important in the "first world" after the Information Age. This is, of course, completely Euro American-centered and 21st century-centered. Additionally, his prescriptions to gain right-brain mental power are overly simplistic and do nothing but trivialize dedicated creative activity thus contradicting the supposed preeminence of the right brain-dominated thinking he is trying to argue for. There are many more negative points to this book that have been clearly put forward in previous reviews (poor empirical data, superficial arguments, farfetched categorizations), so I just wanted to finish this short review mentioning that the fact that the kindle version is more expensive than the paperback appears completely outrageous to me. The digital version does not deserve you paying one dollar for it. Five dollars for the paperback would already be too expensive for anyone and a sad waste of trees.