A Whole New Mind: How to thrive in the conceptual age


Daniel H Pink


Cyan Books






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Why was a Ford employee sacked for smiling in 1940? How can you tell the difference between a fake smile and a genuine one? Why do most parents cradle a baby in their left arm? What benefits might a "laughter club" bring to your organisation? And how does the direction a language is written in affect which part of the brain we use to comprehend its meaning? The answers to these and many other questions relating to the linkages between our brains and our lives, particularly our working lives, are tackled in this fascinating book.

At a more fundamental level, the book addresses the question of how western companies and economies survive as more and more of our logically-structured processes and tasks are automated and the jobs associated with them are moved to lower cost economies?

In Pink's view we are "moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and society built on the innovative, empathetic, big-picture capabilities of what's rising in its place, the Conceptual Age".

A key component in the development of Pink's argument is the different thinking styles that originate from each half of the brain. For anyone who is not familiar with the thinking on left- and right-brain differences, this book provides an extremely good explanation of the subject in an entertaining and easy-to-read style.

But what has the human brain got to do with business and the economy?

Pink points out that computer technologies have moved western economies from the Industrial Age into the Information Age, where knowledge was power and where fantastic economies of scale have been achieved by people applying their knowledge rather than their physical labour in the workplace. However, in just the same way as the computer revolution resulted in knowledge workers replacing manual workers, Pink argues that those same knowledge workers are themselves under threat today.

His argument is that the productivity gains of the Information Age came about as a result of our left-brained dissection of the processes of production. As a result, we were able to develop computer programmes to complete the tasks on our behalf. The employment opportunities came about, not as a result of being able to perform a task, but as a result of our knowledge of how to apply the technology, how to make the machines work. Remember the phrase from the 80's and 90's "knowledge is power".

Paradoxically, as the advancement of IT systems continued, we have reached the point where knowledge is no longer a scarce resource and it is now possible to share information globally in seconds. Items that once had to be manufactured locally can now be manufactured anywhere in the world, with the same applying to sales channels. The result is that today vast numbers of jobs are either being automated as the technology advances or moved overseas to lower cost economies. As the book states: "If a $500-a-month Indian chartered accountant doesn't swipe your comfortable accounting job, Turbo-Tax will."

The light at the end of the tunnel is in right-brained thinking - where value is added through creativity rather than logic. For example, the CEO of General Motors has been quoted as saying: "I see us being in the art business. Art, entertainment and mobile sculpture, which, coincidently, also happens to provide transportation."

As evidence of the growth in demand for more creative right-brained thinking, Pink points out that places on fine art graduate programmes in the US are today typically more oversubscribed than places on MBA courses, that in less than 10 years the proportion of people recruited by McKinsey holding an MBA declined from 63% to 43%, that in the US graphic designers outnumber chemical engineers by four to one, that since 1970 the US has 30% more people earning a living as writers and 50% more people earning a living from composing or playing music.

Pink's conclusion is that to survive in the Conceptual Age, organisations need to focus their efforts on the things that computers cannot do faster and that foreign workers cannot do cheaper, while at the same time meeting the aesthetic, emotional and spiritual demands of a generation who are prepared to pay a premium price for these qualities.

Pink is not the only author or commentator to observe that creativity, innovation and design will be key economic drivers in the western economies of the future, but as far as books on the subject go, A Whole New Mind is one of the best.

The book is well written, entertaining, easy to read and extremely persuasive. For anyone reading about the subject for the first time it is very helpful in providing numerous examples and references to courses, books and web sites that enable the reader to dig deeper into particular subjects.

About the author
Daniel Pink trained as a lawyer but "to his lasting joy", never practiced law. He has worked as a political aid to the US Secretary of State for Labour and was a political speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore. Today he is an author and commentator on a variety of subjects associated with employment, business and technology.

Published November 2008