Trend Letter: April 2007 [Briefings Publications]
Spotlight Interview by Hope Katz Gibbs
Volume 26, Number 4
*SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW WITH DAN PINK: A Whole New Mind
Daniel Pink is the best-selling author of two influential business books. His latest, “A Whole New Mind,” charts the rise of right-brain thinking in modern economies. His first book, “Free Agent Nation,” focuses on the growing ranks of people who work for themselves.
A free agent himself, Pink is a contributing editor at Wired, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review and Fast Company. He held his last “real” job in the White House, where he served from 1995 to 1997 as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore. He also has worked as an aide to U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich, as an economic policy staffer in the U.S. Senate, as a legal researcher in India and as a latrine builder in Botswana.
Pink received a B.A. with honors in linguistics from Northwestern University and a J.D. from Yale Law School He says that, to his lasting joy, he has never practiced law.
Trend Letter: Trend Letter Editor: In your latest book, A Whole New Mind, you say parents used to encourage their children to pursue “left-brained” occupations such as lawyers, accountants, radiologists and software engineers. But times have changed, and the future belongs to people with very different capabilities. Talk more about what you mean and about what parents today can do to point their children in the right direction.
Daniel Pink: The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind: computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts and MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind: creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. Those people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers and big-picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.
I firmly believe we are leaving the era of “left-brain dominance” and the Information Age that it engendered. In its place is a new world in which right-brain qualities, such as inventiveness, empathy and meaning, predominate. As a result, we need to take a different look at what it takes to excel.
In the book, I outline six essential aptitudes on which professional success and personal fulfillment now depend, and I include a series of hands-on exercises culled from experts around the world to help readers sharpen those necessary abilities. My hope is that will help adults develop those skills, and that they will then encourage right-brain abilities in their children.
TL: You call the six aptitudes the “six senses” on which professional success and personal satisfaction increasingly will depend. What are those senses?
DP: They include design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. Everyone can master those fundamental human aptitudes. Of course, helping people do that is my goal.
TL: In fact, it seems that your book tries to help readers understand that those aptitudes are important not just for their careers and pocketbooks but also for their lives in the 21st century.
DP: Indeed. That is why the right-brain vs. left-brain scenario is such a convenient metaphor. Your brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere is sequential, textual and analytical. The right hemisphere is simultaneous, contextual and synthetic. Of course, we enlist both halves of our brains for even the simplest tasks. And the respective traits of the two hemispheres have often been caricatured well beyond what the science actually reveals.
But the legitimate scientific differences between the two hemispheres of the brain do yield a powerful metaphor for interpreting our present and guiding our future.
Today, the defining skills of the previous era—the metaphorically “left-brain” capabilities that powered the Information Age—are necessary but no longer sufficient. And the capabilities we once disdained or thought frivolous, the metaphorically “right-brain” qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness and meaning, increasingly will determine who flourishes and who flounders.
TL: We understand that you have three kids. Would you dissuade one of them from choosing a very left-brained occupation such as an accountant?
DP: I would ask my child why he wants to be an accountant. If he tells me that he loves helping people solve complex financial problems or that he sees poetry when balancing numbers on a spreadsheet, then I’d encourage it because I know he’d make a difference in other people’s lives. You can make a hardheaded case for doing anything where you follow your passion.
6 SENSES FOR SUCCESS IN A RIGHT-BRAINED WORLD
In “A Whole New Mind,” author Daniel Pink outlines the “six senses” he says people will need to compete and flourish in the future:
• not just function matters. Design is also essential. The reason is that it’s no longer sufficient to create a product, service, experience or lifestyle that’s merely functional. Today, it’s economically crucial as well as personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging.
• You can no longer have an argument, you must tell a story. When our lives are brimming with information and
data, it’s not enough to marshal an effective argument. Someone, somewhere, inevitably will track down a counterpoint and rebut your point. The essence of persuasion, communication and self -understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative.
• Focus is no longer enough; now you also must create a symphony. Much of the Industrial and Information ages required focus and specialization. But as white-collar work is routed to Asia and reduced to software, there’s a new premium on the opposite aptitude: putting the pieces together into what Pink calls a symphony.
• Logic is important, but empathy is critical. Here’s why: The capacity for logical thought is one of the things that make us human. But in a world of ubiquitous information and advanced analytic tools, logic alone won’t do it. 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.
• Seriousness is fine, but play is more important. Ample evidence points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games and humor. There is a time to be serious, of course, but too much sobriety can be bad for your career and worse for your general well-being.
• People should no longer just look toward accumulation, but begin finding meaning in their lives. We live in a world of breathtaking material plenty. That has freed hundreds of millions of people from day-to-day struggles and liberated us to pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence and spiritual fulfillment.
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