Monday, September 7, 2009

Review: A Whole New Mind

In an earlier post I referred to this book as helping inspire me to start practicing the lessons in a drawing book that I've had for some time.

I liked A Whole New Mind so much that after reading it I decided to put it on my Amazon wish list.

Daniel Pink's overall premise is that we as individuals and a society need to embrace our right-brain thought processes--those that involve creativity, intuitive, human interaction, and seeing the whole rather than analyzing the parts--more fully. He makes two key arguments:
  • Right-brain thinking is a key to success in the jobs that will be in demand in our future.
  • Developing a suite of right-brain oriented Talents will help us reconnect with our fundamental human natures and enjoy a richer life experience.
On the job front, Pink argues that Abundance, Asia, and Automation have combined to undermine the dominance of analytical left-brain thinking skills in the American job market. To summarize these points:
  • Abundance Makes Design More Important: In Japan, Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, the average person has access to an abundance of relatively inexpensive goods of fairly equal quality. In this type of market, creative and innovative design is what stands out. What tends to separate even high-tech gadgets is not so much their physical capabilities but the design of their interfaces, the style of their appearance, and the ergonomics of their use. Well-designed goods are more popular than ever.
  • Asia and Outsourcing Makes Cultural Familiarity and the Human Touch More Important: Many jobs, even those in previously high-paying white-collar fields such as accounting, computer programming, and even legal research, are being outsourced to Asia. The jobs with the greatest security are those that involve an understanding of American culture and the ability to have successful hands-on interactions with people, such as teaching, nursing, designing, trial lawyers, family physicians, and so forth.
  • Automation Makes Creative Problem-Solving and Big-Picture Thinking More Important: Software already exists that can carry out linear thinking tasking at high speed with great efficiency. For example, you have computers that beat the best humans at chess. But by definition these machines cannot think outside of the box. The ability to look at the whole and intuit valuable relationships within it, or to draw solutions from one field of endeavor and apply them to another, is going to be very valuable in the years ahead.
He boils this down to asking yourself the questions: Can someone overseas do my job cheaper? Can a computer do it faster? Is what I'm offering in demand in an age of abundance?

Pink then identifies six key senses that are tied to right-brain thinking:
  • Design: Create objects and experiences that are both functional and beautiful.
  • Story: Communicate information in the form of a persuasive narrative that engages people and helps them retain your message.
  • Symphony: Synthesize the parts into a whole and combine seemingly unrelated parts to form entirely new mental and physical constructs.
  • Empathy: Strive to understand what makes other people act as they do, build relationships with others based on trust and emotional connection, and care for others.
  • Play: Mix humor and games into your life and work, to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of laughter and creativity.
  • Meaning: Look beyond your material acquisitions to seek a greater purpose and strive for spiritual fulfillment.
Pink spends a chapter going into greater detail about each of these senses, sprinkling in various examples of how they are being applied in daily life around the world. Each chapter includes a Portfolio of activities and resources that Pink encourages people to experiment with to help develop the sense in question.

For example, I'm taking up drawing to pursue my sense of Symphony. I'm also planning to read a bit on how metaphors influence our thinking. For Story, my efforts to write a novel fit nicely. I try to embrace Play during the week by playing with my son and other elementary school kids in the morning before school starts and by shooting baskets in the afternoons before I pick them up. My wife and I also play some board games together once a week or so. I experimented a bit with Design by hosting an Egg Parachute table at the Highly Gifted picnic a couple weeks ago, testing various chute models by dropping eggs off the roof and various other buildings. I like to think that Empathy is already something that is a strong suit for me, and I try to embrace it in various ways each day, mostly by trying to figure out why my kids do what they do. :-)

Meaning is trickier. My wife has asked me to do some exercises so that we can talk about some ideas and I'm trying to find time to fit those in.

It's hard to balance all of this stuff on anything like a regular basis. I think shooting for 3 out of 6 is pretty good at any given time, but maybe I'm just lazy!

Anyway, a good book and one I highly recommend.

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