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Is the right brain truly a sight for invention?

Is the right brain truly a site for invention?

To assess your individual or corporate viability in the current economy, ask yourself three questions:

1. Can what I do be done cheaper overseas?
2. Can what I do be done faster by a computer?
3. Am I offering something that satisfies the nonmaterial wants of an abundant age?

If your answer is anything other than “no”, invest some time in Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. Even those who can answer “No” will extract value from the stories, methodology and commentary of a broad range of innovative people and organizations including GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, product innovation and design consultancy IDEO, MIT’s Nicolas Negroponte, writer and social commentator Pat Kane and designer Karim Rashid. Although the causal premises are well established, Pink’s research and perspective is both uniquely personal and broadly applicable.

True to our times, A Whole New Mind is a bad news-good news story. The bad news for analytical types including accountants, engineers, lawyers and MBAs is that the primacy of the knowledge worker is a thing of the past. The Industrial Age is history; our challenge is to how to thrive in what Pink terms the Conceptual Age. From a marketability standpoint, there has been a shift in valuation from left-brain or systematic thought to right brain or empathetic thought. What is currently in demand is an integrative perspective that is “high concept” (integrative) and “high-touch” (empathetic).

The good news is that the high-value abilities of the 21st century are not necessarily a function of one’s IQ. They are fundamentally human attributes that can be cultivated. The essence of this book is the why and how of cultivating A Whole New Mind.

To put this shift in context, Pink documents how three socioeconomic factors–abundance, Asia and automation–are transforming both the nature of work and society. Abundance has enabled a shift in the hierarchy of needs from material accumulation to higher criteria such as beauty, emotion and meaning. Asia is a generic reference to outsourcing and off-shoring knowledge work to high-aptitude/low-cost countries including China, Hungary, India, the Philippines, Russia–anywhere but Europe and North America. A 2003 Reuters report noted that “one out of ten jobs in the U.S. computer, software and information technology industry will move overseas in the next two years [by 2008].

One in four IT jobs will be off-shored by 2010. Finally, technology has rendered those activities reducible to a series of processes virtually obsolete. These factors are driving a transformation of the entire value creation process. To quote Pink, “In an age of abundance, appealing only to rational, logical and functional needs is woefully insufficient–mastery of design, empathy, play and other seemingly soft aptitudes is now the main way for individuals and firms to stand out in a crowded marketplace.”

According to Pink, achieving professional success and personal satisfaction in the Conceptual Age is dependant on our ability to deploy six essential aptitudes or “senses”: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. For maximum impact, we will need to complement L-Directed reasoning with the six essential R-Directed aptitudes to yield a holistic mind.

To highlight the difference in the two perspectives, Pink poses the dynamic this way: “Not just function but also DESIGN. Not just argument but also STORY. Not just focus but also SYMPHONY. Not just logic but also EMPATHY. Not just seriousness but also PLAY. Not just accumulation but also MEANING.” Karim Rashid captures the essence of this sensibility in his exhortation to “Think extensively, not intensively.”

This is not a theoretical book; it’s a call to action. The emphasis throughout is on maximizing your personal impact. The Portfolio sections at the end of each of the “six senses” chapters provide multiple options for assessment and application. References range from texts to tests, hands-on exercises to meditative explorations–in short, something for everyone regardless of brain dominance.

For example, the “Channel Your Annoyance” exercise in the Design section is an effective creative outlet for venting frustration with everything from ads to web site usability. Pink’s participation in a “Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain” class is proof of effectiveness: the difference between his before and after portraits is astonishing. For a common sense approach to empathy, apply IDEO’s Learn, Look, Ask and Try methodology.

Finally, as an acid test, the 20/10 test in the Meaning section is spot-on: if you had $20 million in the bank or only 10 years to live, would you live your life differently? That is, indeed, the pivotal question. If you would live your life differently, this book is a kick-start. The final point in Rashid’s 50-point guide to life is “Here and now is all we got.” A Whole New Mind helps you make the most of what you got.

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