A Whole New Mind

Originally, I thought Chris Anderson started it.  His 2006 landmark book, The Long Tail is a complete and compelling look at business in the twenty-first century; a discussion as to how the internet changed the competitive landscape by increasing choice and accessibility and democratizing production to the masses.  And then I found Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind.  Published a whole year before The Long Tail, A Whole New Mind is a truly groundbreaking look at how Abundance, Automation and Asia are forever changing the role of North American “knowledge workers”… and what we can do about it.

Golden Egg

The Half-Brained SATs and MBAs

“”If you don’t do well on {the SAT},” Sternberg says, “everywhere you turn the access routes to success in our society are blocked.” But as more educators are recognizing, those roadblocks can exclude people with aptitudes that the SAT doesn’t measure.”

A Whole New Mind, page 59

A quick neurology lesson for you:  Our brains are divided into two hemispheres – the right and the left.  As Pink summarizes for us, there are four fundamental key differences between the capabilities and responsibilities of our left and right brains:

1. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body; the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body.

2. The left hemisphere is sequential; the right hemisphere is simultaneous.

3. The left hemisphere specializes in text; the right hemisphere specializes in context.

4. The left hemisphere analyzes details; the right hemisphere synthesizes the big picture.

A Whole New Mind, page 17-22

Study the list above closely (minus the first point).

Left brain:  Sequential.  Text.  Detail.

Right Brain: Simultaneous.  Context.  Big Picture.

Answer “left brain” or “right brain” to the following three questions:

What type of work is a computer best at?

What type of work would you outsource to low-cost knowledge workers in Asia?

What type of work are we taught in school?  What type of work are we tested on?

The crux of A Whole Mind is this: Our education system, standardized testing and social recognition have traditionally rewarded only logical, fact based analytical thinking.  Through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s we recognized deductive, linear thinking as the cornerstone of successful business thinking.  Efficiency was the name of the game, and MBAs reigned supreme.  Time have changed.  While the types of tasks associated with our left hemisphere (what Pink calls “L-directed thinking”) are still of value, it’s not enough.  There’s a rising need to develop our right hemisphere capabilities as well.  Sadly, as Sir Ken Robinson brilliantly outlined in The Element, our education systems haven’t caught up to the need yet.  So it’s up to us to develop our “R-directed thinking” on our own.

Through a tremendous amount of study, interview and first-hand experience, Pink has distilled six essential aptitudes for employees in the 21st century:  Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning.  Or, as Pink further categorizes them, “high concept and high touch” aptitudes.

GEM #1

Add the Flavour

“When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.”

A Whole New Mind, page 103

Google and Wikipedia have changed the game for good.  Knowledge is no longer power.  how could it be?  Anyone with a computer can access the world’s information with a few key strokes now, putting us all on a (fairly) level playing field when it comes to information access.  So, (as Chris Anderson wrote about in Free), when one resource grows in abundance another becomes scarce.  The real value now is not fact and detail, but context and relationship.  This is what Pink meant by “High Concept”.  The details aren’t special any more.  The relationships between the details are.

The next time you’re working on a project, assignment or presentation, move past the facts as quickly as you can.  Yes they’re still important.  But rather than being the be-all-end-all of decision making these days, facts and details should act as a base for deeper, richer thinking.  Ask yourself these questions:

What does it mean about the people, circumstances and environment?

How does this relate?

Where else could this be applied?

What are the patterns?  What could be the patterns?

Look beyond the cold facts and numbers and look for the connectors; the opportunities to create something new.  In essence, use your collected data to look forward as well as to look at the present and look back.

GEM #2

Develop Your Female Grey Matter

“Sometimes we need detachment; many other times we need attunement. And the people who will thrive will be those who can toggle between the two.  As we’ve seen again and again, the Conceptual Age requires androgynous minds.”

A Whole New Mind, page 174

When we’ve got options (and we do – an abundance of choice in virtually every aspect of our lives), we look to the products, people and companies that mean something to us; to entities that “get us”.

Relate-ability.  Empathy.  Meaning.   When we were small town merchants we understood the value of connecting with our customers – truly caring and learning about their lives.  We moves away from that with the advent of big-box stores and a cultural focus on price, but the tide is shifting again.

Interestingly, it’s the traditionally labelled “female thinking” that’s growing in credibility and necessity in today’s business world.  As a society, we’ve moved from wanting “quality” to wanting “quality, cheap” to wanting “quality, cheap, in a way that resonates with my sense of meaning”.  As Pink says,

“Companies traditionally have competed on price or quality, or some combination of the two.  But today decent quality and reasonable price have become merely table stakes in the business game – the entry ticket for being allowed into the marketplace.”

A Whole New Mind, page 77

Today you need to connect, whether you’re launching a new product line or just selling an idea to your boss.  While many would argue that we’ve moved beyond a “needs based” society and into a “wants based” society, I believe that there are still a good many unfulfilled, legitimate needs out there; they’re just not material.  When you understand what makes your audience tick, and then appeal to that specific “need”, you win.

A Whole New Mind was a book ahead of its time.  Since its publication it’s concepts have been touched upon in The Opposable Mind, Linchpin, Crush It!  and The Element (to name a few) – all written by bestselling authors, all touting the importance of fostering innovation, creative problem solving and caring about your customer.  The traditional MBA program may not be dead, but it’s in need of a radical facelift if it’s going to continue to create the leaders of the future.

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Chris Taylor

ABOUT Chris Taylor

Founder of Actionable Books, Chris Taylor is a writer, entrepreneur and speaker. He spends his daylight hours helping consultants and employees alike find meaning in their work and discover rich team relationships through his company, Actionablebooks...
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