A Whole New Mind, by Daniel H. Pink

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My friend Wes recommended this book to me after my social capitalist post where I claimed that we were moving from a world defined by technology to one defined by social connections. Daniel Pink’s book describes a similar transition from an emphasis on left-brain thinking towards right-brain thinking.

Pink starts the book by describing the characteristics of L-directed thinking and R-directed thinking (his descriptions of left-brain and right-brain thinking). These are probably familiar to most readers – the left brain controls language, is detail-oriented, and thinks sequentially and deductively, while the right brain is better at reading emotions and context (the right brain does facial recognition), thinking inductively by synthesizing from “isolated elements together to perceive things as a whole” and seeing the big picture. Pink emphasizes that neither brain half should be dominant – that they are designed to complement each other and create one functioning whole (hence “whole new mind” as the title).

Pink then explores the forces changing the world from an emphasis on L-directed thinking to R-directed thinking. The 20th century was dominated by technology, from the assembly line and machine guns at the beginning of the century to the atom bomb and space flight in the middle, to electronics and the Internet at the end. Pink observes that three forces are combining to de-emphasize technology in the developed world:

  • Abundance – when material wants are satisfied, then the differentiating factor is no longer functionality, but design e.g. the market dominance of the iPod over other MP3 players with more functionality.
  • Asia – like Friedman’s World is Flat, Pink believes that anything that can be outsourced will be. Things that can’t be outsourced include high-touch jobs that involve direct human interaction e.g. nursing is one of the fastest-growing professions in America.
  • Automation – any job that can be reduced to a set of instructions will be automated, not only on the factory floor, but also in offices. Jobs that require human intuition or empathy are the only ones likely to be safe from automation.

The rest of the book is a description of the R-directed skills that Pink thinks will be important in the decades moving forward: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning. The ones that stood out to me were Story and Symphony, which isn’t surprising given my interest in stories and in the value of synthesis. I especially liked the description of Symphony as seeing relationships: “People who hope to thrive in the Conceptual Age must understand the connections between diverse, and seemingly separate, disciplines.” is a nice one-sentence summary of what I value in being a generalist.

At the end of each chapter, Pink also provides a set of activities to exercise that particular skill, which include seeing that skill performed well (design museums, story-telling festivals, etc.), trying it oneself (drawing, finding ways to learn more and empathize with coworkers), or reading books on the subject. I’ll have to try some of them myself.

Overall, it’s a decent book that’s a quick read. Nothing particularly new to me, but it was nice in providing a reference work to explain some of the ideas that I believe. I’d recommend it as a library book if you’re interested in moving your life or career in the direction of the right brain.

One thought on “A Whole New Mind, by Daniel H. Pink

  1. The L-directed way of thinking has been dominant in western society for a lot longer than just the last 100 years. Philosopher Stephen Toulmin, in his superb and erudite book, “Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity” (Chicago University Press, 1990) marks the starting point as the work of Rene Descartes, with his desire for abstracted, universalist, de-contextualized and de-temporalized models of reasoning.

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