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A Whole New Mind

By Daniel H Pink





Daniel Pink believes that the era of “left brain” dominance is giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities predominate. Termed the Information Age, left brain professions include lawyers, accountants, radiologists, and software engineers – the types of careers our parents encouraged us to enter – whereas the Conceptual Age of right brain careers revolves around inventiveness, meaning, and empathy. In the pages of this book, he offers his findings on what it takes for individuals and organisations to excel, drawing on cutting-edge research from around the world to reveal six essential aptitudes on which professional success and personal fulfilment now depend. They are Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning, and with examples and exercises provided, the reader is given everything they need to begin sharpening these skills to reap the rewards.   

My Top 3 Takes from the Summary

  • The Information Age of “knowledge workers” is giving way to the Conceptual Age of empathetic, creative, and big-picture thinkers. 

  • In the Conceptual Age, “high concept” and “high touch” aptitudes are prized.

  • For individuals, families and organisations, professional success and personal fulfilment now require a whole new mind – a shift from left-brain to right-brain thinking.



Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

The author states that the last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind. These have been “knowledge workers,” computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, and MBAs who could crunch numbers, but he believes the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. These people are creators and empathisers, pattern recognisers, and meaning makers: they are artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, and big-picture thinkers, and they will now reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys.

Describing it as a seismic, but as yet undetected shift, the Information Age is giving way to the Conceptual Age. The author explains this as moving from an economy and a society built on logical, linear, computer-like capabilities to an economy and a society built on inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities – capabilities often overlooked and undervalued in the Information Age.



The Two Hemispheres


The move from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age is being helped along by an array of forces described by the author as material abundance that is deepening our nonmaterial yearnings, globalisation that is shipping white-collar work overseas, and powerful technologies that are eliminating certain kinds of work altogether. This new age is animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life in which "high concept" and "high touch" aptitudes are now prized. High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new. High touch involves the ability to empathise with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one's self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.


This change is explained by the author as something that’s taking place inside our heads. Our brains are divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere is sequential, logical, and analytical. The right hemisphere is nonlinear, intuitive, and holistic. We enlist both halves of our brains for even the simplest tasks. But the well-established differences between the two hemispheres of the brain yield a powerful metaphor for interpreting our present and guiding our future. Today, the defining skills of the previous era – the "left brain" capabilities that powered the Information Age – are necessary but no longer sufficient. And the capabilities we once disdained or thought frivolous – the "right brain" qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness and meaning – increasingly will determine who flourishes and who flounders. For individuals, families and organisations, professional success and personal fulfilment now require a whole new mind.


The two hemispheres of our brains don't operate as on-off switches, or one powering down as soon as the other starts lighting up, both halves play a role in nearly everything we do. With more than three decades of research on the brain's hemispheres, it's possible to distil the findings to four key differences:

  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 specialises in text; the right hemisphere specialises in context.

  4. The left hemisphere analyses the details; the right hemisphere synthesises the big picture.


Based on these facts, the author delves into why we need both left (L-Directed Thinking) and right (R-Directed Thinking) aptitudes to craft fulfilling lives and build protective, just societies. He states that left-brain-style thinking used to be the driver and right-brain-style thinking the passenger, but now R-Directed Thinking is grabbing the wheel, stepping on the gas, and determining where we're going and how we'll get there.



The Six Senses

According to the author, there are six essential aptitudes, or “six senses," on which professional success and personal satisfaction increasingly will depend, and these are fundamentally human abilities that everyone can master. He asserts that in the Conceptual Age, we will need to complement our L-Directed reasoning by mastering six essential R-Directed aptitudes. Together, these six high-concept, high-touch senses can help develop the whole new mind this era demands:

1) Design – not just function but also design. Today it's economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging. Design is a high-concept aptitude that is difficult to outsource or automate, and that increasingly confers a competitive advantage in business. Good design, now more accessible and affordable than ever, also offers us a chance to bring pleasure, meaning and beauty to our lives. But most important, cultivating a design sensibility can make our small planet a better place for us all.

2) Story – not just argument but also story. The essence of persuasion, communication and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative. Story exists where high concept and high touch intersect. Story is high concept because it sharpens our understanding of one thing by showing it in the context of something else. To paraphrase E.M. Forster's famous observation, a fact is "The queen died and the king died." A story is "The queen died and the king died of a broken heart."


The ability to encapsulate, contextualise and emotionalise has become vastly more important in the Conceptual Age. When so much routine knowledge work can be reduced to rules and farmed out to fast computers and smart L-Directed thinkers abroad, the more elusive abilities embodied by Story become more valuable. Likewise, as more people lead lives of abundance, we'll have a greater opportunity to pursue lives of meaning. And stories are often the vehicles we use in that pursuit.

3) Symphony – not just focus but also symphony. What's in greatest demand today isn't analysis but synthesis, seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries, and being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole. Symphonic thinking is a signature ability of composers and conductors, whose jobs involve corralling a diverse group of notes, instruments and performers, and producing a unified and pleasing sound. Entrepreneurs and inventors have long relied on this ability. But today Symphony is becoming an essential aptitude for a much wider swath of the population.


The reasons go back to the three forces propelling us out of the Information Age. Automation has taken over many of the routine analytic tasks that knowledge workers once performed. Many of those tasks are also heading to Asia, where they can be done equally well for much less. That is freeing (and in some cases forcing) professionals to do what computers and low-wage foreign technicians have a more difficult time replicating; recognising patterns, crossing boundaries to uncover hidden connections, and making bold leaps of imagination.

4) Empathy – not just logic but also empathy. What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman and man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others. Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else's position and to intuit what that person is feeling. It is the ability to stand in others' shoes, to see with their eyes, and to feel with their hearts. It is something we do spontaneously, an act of instinct rather than the product of deliberation. But Empathy, like many of the other high-concept, high-touch aptitudes, wasn't always given its proper due in the Information Age.


It was often considered a soft-hearted nicety in a world that demanded hard-headed detachment. The era of sharp-minded knowledge workers and briskly efficient high-tech companies prized emotional distance and cool reason; the ability to step back, assess the situation, and to make a decision unimpeded by emotion. But as with so many attributes of L-Directed Thinking, we are beginning to see the limits of such a single-minded approach. Today, cheap and widespread online access, combined with all those overseas knowledge workers, are making the attributes measurable by IQ much easier to replace, but one aptitude that's proven impossible for computers to reproduce, and very difficult for faraway workers connected by electrons to match, is Empathy.

5) Play – not just seriousness but also play. Too much sobriety can be bad for your career and worse for your general well-being. In the Conceptual Age, we all need to play. Southwest Airlines is one of today's most successful carriers, earning a regular profit while many of its competitors wobble on the edge of insolvency. The company's mission statement offers clues to its stellar performance. It says, "People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it." According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 50 European companies have brought in consultants in "Serious Play," a technique that uses Lego building blocks to train corporate executives. In the Conceptual Age, fun and games are not just fun and games – and laughter is no laughing matter.

6) Meaning – not just accumulation but also meaning. A world of material plenty has freed us to pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfilment. 


In Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, he describes how he persevered in the face of crushing labour, sadistic guards, and scant food in a Nazi concentration camp. Elaborating on the theory he had begun before his arrest, Frankl argues that "man's main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life." He and others managed to find meaning and purpose even in the unimaginably ghastly setting of a concentration camp.


The search for meaning is a drive that exists in all of us, and a combination of external circumstances and internal will can bring it to the surface. Meaning has become a central aspect of our work and our lives. Pursuing meaning obviously is no simple task. You can't buy a cookbook with a recipe for it. But there are two practical, whole-minded ways for individuals, families, and businesses to begin the search for meaning: Start taking spirituality seriously and start taking happiness seriously.





The author’s message is that the Conceptual Age is dawning, and those who hope to survive in it must master the high-concept, high-touch abilities that represent a whole new mind. Those who master these abilities will do extremely well – the future belongs to artists, inventors, storytellers, and all creative and holistic “right-brain” thinkers. Those who move too slowly, or not at all, may miss out, and they may find their jobs outsourced to cheaper workers in Asia or taken over by computers. The information shared in this book gives the reader all they need to know about adopting a new way of thinking for a future that’s already here.





Drawing on research from around the world, the author clearly defines the abilities that will distinguish those who get ahead from those who don’t as the Information Age gives way to the Conceptual Age. He takes the reader to a laughter club in Bombay, an inner-city school dedicated to teaching design, and sets out the six fundamental abilities they will need to acquire to ensure both professional success and personal fulfilment.      


Bio of the Author


Daniel Pink is a bestselling author and a contributing editor at Wired magazine. His articles on business and technology have also appeared in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and other publications.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink, 2006, ISBN: 978-1-594-48171-0 is available to buy at Amazon.


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