“A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink

Title: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
Author: Daniel H. Pink
ISBN: 9781594481710
Pages: 288
Release Date: January 2005
Publisher: Riverhead Trade
Genre: Psychology; self-help
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 4 out of 5

In Look Both Ways, her book of essays on the intersection of life and design, Debbie Millman writes of what she calls infinity, or what we could call lasting happiness. She says,

I believe some infinities are worthy challenges: the search for what is truly beautiful; laughing at the same time with someone you love; discovering a perfect piece of poetry; experiencing the deepest feelings of empathy.

Millman is a well-known author, graphic designer, brand manager, and radio host. According to Daniel H. Pink in A Whole New Mind, jobs like hers are becoming increasingly important as we transition from the Information Age into what he has dubbed the “Conceptual Age.”

Pink opens the book by describing MRIs he underwent at the National Institutes of Health. He learns that the left hemisphere of the brain controls logic, sequence, and text, while the right hemisphere innovates and creates, seeing the big picture and interpreting metaphors. These right-brain–directed qualities will become more important as society places rapidly increasing value on “high concept” and “high touch” professions, Pink believes. High concept, he explains, is “the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty,” while high touch involves the ability to “find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian, in pursuit of purpose and meaning.”

Dan Pink cites three reasons for the forthcoming rise of the right brain: “Abundance, Asia, and Automation.” If your work can be computerized, outsourced, or cast quickly away, you should rethink your field, Pink advises. Instead, he proposes, the jobs of the future will involve more creative activities, careers that focus on innovation and the human touch. In a very methodical, left-brained way, Pink breaks down the most important right-brain functions to six “senses”: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. He explains that developing these skills will aid in making your professional skills more unique and desirable—an important investment in this economic climate.

Pink explains, “Design—that is, utility enhanced by significance—has become an essential aptitude for personal fulfillment and professional success.” However, good design does more than just please the eye; it can also carry enormous weight on individual and international scales. I’m not just talking about Project Runway; Pink hypothesizes that if Palm Beach County in Florida had incorporated a different design for their 2000 election ballots, perhaps presidential candidate Al Gore would have won that county—and the state, and the country. In downtown Philadelphia, Pink finds the Charter High School of Architecture and Design, a public high school that focuses upon art and design while also providing students with a more traditional education. Eighty percent of these inner-city students—one-third of which could read and do math at a third-grade level upon entering the school—will go on to enroll in two- and four-year schools, including some of the most prestigious art schools in the nation. If you don’t live in inner-city Philadelphia, you can still exercise your design abilities by visiting websites where you can design shoes or even a typeface based on your own handwriting. Next stop: Freelancing for the electoral board.

Storytelling is another important tool for future personal and professional success. Story is “context enriched by emotion,” and, according to Pink, “the ability to encapsulate, contextualize, and emotionalize has become vastly more important in the Conceptual Age.” He describes the attempts of doctors and medical schools to incorporate narrative in modern medicine to establish more complete doctor-patient relations, and finds that they are as a rule successful. In the same way, stories are becoming increasingly important for businesses to convey their mission and to reach out to their audience. To exercise this “sense,” all you have to do is begin telling stories. Write a short story; if you are stymied, you could use photographs or a snippet from another work as your jumping-off point. Record the stories of friends and family on tape or video. People-watch, and create stories about these strangers.

What do entrepreneurs, painters, inventors, and classical music conductors all have in common? They all exercise symphony. According to Pink, symphony “is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.” This skill is all about enhancing relationships and seeing the big picture. To develop his sense of symphony, Pink takes a class in right-brained drawing. He explains, “Drawing is about seeing relationships—and then integrating these relationships into a whole.” Judging from the before and after shots of his self-portraits, the class was a rampant success; he progressed from drawing as he thought parts of his face should look, to simply penciling in the relationships between nose, eyes, and mouth—to great effect. Pink also encourages those who have trouble with this sense to listen to classical music, think of solutions to new problems, and simply brainstorm to see how the mind connects seemingly disparate ideas.

Do you feel the urge to yawn when someone else does? Have you ever cried over the evening news? No, you are not a sissy; you are empathetic. Empathy is “a means of understanding other human beings,” and it is an important part of exercising the right brain. Empathy transcends culture and country; Pink cites studies showing that expressions and emotions have an inherent, universal meaning, explaining that across linguistic, geographic, and physical divides, we all have the same needs and desires. That is why “high-touch” professions such as teaching, counseling, and nursing are increasingly in demand; Pink writes, “Nursing consistently rates as the most honest and ethical profession in the United States . . . and its pay is rising faster than nearly every other job category.” To increase empathy, Pink suggests, you can enroll in an acting class, volunteer, or even just study others’ facial expressions in order to understand how they are feeling and why.

Play is another overlooked but important trait in right-brainers. Pink journeys to Mumbai, India, to participate in a laughter club. The idea is that every morning before work, clubs congregate to laugh for half an hour—and such clubs are gaining in international popularity. Videogames are also becoming more eminent. Immersing oneself into the world of a game, learning its rules and interacting with other characters in order to reach goals, has real-life value. In the gaming industry, Pink notes, “companies resist segregating the disciplines of art, programming, math, and cognitive psychology and instead look for those who can piece together patches of many disciplines and weave them together into a larger tapestry.” Pink lists several popular videogames to increase your playfulness. You could also try your own version of the Rainbow Test, an alternative SAT discussed in the book, by cutting the captions out of cartoons and asking your friends to fill in their own. Such simple games work wonders for improving one’s humor and wit, and I for one would love to improve my friends’ senses of humor.

Moreover, as our society becomes more abundant, we have the time and means to pursue deeper meaning. Introducing spirituality into the workplace has actually proven useful in terms of productivity; Pink reports that “companies that acknowledged spiritual values and aligned them with company goals outperformed those that did not.” Pink found that walking a labyrinth did more for his ADD-addled mind than yoga or meditation; however, focusing on your goals and intentions is what is important, not the means you choose of discovering them. In the search for joyfulness, Pink suggest, try displaying gratitude; you could write a letter thanking someone for something, anything, they have done to impact your life, or you could dedicate your work (silently or openly) to someone you admire. Another way to implement the search for meaning on a regular basis is to plan a certain day off, or even just a quiet moment or two, to enjoy yourself and to think about who you are, what you want to do, and the steps you can take to get there.

Perhaps the most useful parts of the book are the end-of-chapter exercises Pink suggests to implement the practices he discusses. A good rule of thumb is to do as the professionals do: study industry magazines and books; visit conferences, museums, and festivals; keep a notebook recording good (and bad) examples of creative work; collect photographs and pictures, videos, pieces of colorful or textured cloth, trinkets—anything that inspires you. Immerse yourself in a more creative world, Pink advises, and you will carve out a niche for yourself in the ever-evolving job market.

For every skill, he lists several online tests of these senses, such as empathy, humor, and spirituality and well-being—what left-brainer wouldn’t jump at the chance to quantify otherwise unquantifiable results? However, for the lower-tech among us, he also recommends books on relevant topics. Though he wrote this book before the current economic crisis, Daniel Pink’s advice has never been more useful. In stressing creativity and originality, Pink guides readers to become more complete, “whole-minded” individuals that succeed on both personal and professional levels.

As Bennett Peji, an environmental designer, writes in The Essential Principles of Graphic Design,

Surround yourself with good people who tell good stories about other good people. . . . Purely by association, good things are bound to follow.

Daniel H. Pink is author of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us; The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need; and Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself. The former speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, Pink resides in Washington, D.C., with his wife and their three children.

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