Saturday, December 1, 2007

Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future?

A review of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future By Daniel H. Pink

The two forces he labels “Asia” and “Automation” have changed the U.S. job market forever, pushing domestic labor into more creative practices. Another one, “Abundance,” adds a consumer factor to the evolution. In the last 30 years, Pink says, wealth has spread and deepened. Life is good, and “the information economy has produced a standard of living that would have been unfathomable in our grandparents’ youth.” With material needs met, people want more than functionality from their goods. They want pleasing aesthetics, and they elevate “less rational sensibilities—beauty, spirituality, emotion.” It’s a Big Idea, this epochal transition from Information Age to Conceptual Age, and the analysis of it could lead into demographic, financial, and geopolitical fields. In A Whole New Mind, Pink tracks it down to a smaller but still central terrain, the individual mind. For the transformations in jobs and goods, he claims, have a complement in the physiology of the brain, and in the styles of cognition that go with it. The Information Age solicits the powers of the left hemisphere, the aptitudes of analysis and numeracy and information management. The Conceptual Age solicits the powers of the right hemisphere, aptitudes of imagination, invention, and empathy. The left side, L-thinking, deals in pieces and series, while R-thinking makes pictures and discerns patterns. L-thinking breaks things down into parts. R-thinking assembles them into wholes. L-thinking conceives things by how they work, R-thinking by how they give pleasure and are meaningful. L-thinking fits a data-oriented economy, R-thinking an idea-oriented one.

That we have entered the latter condition Pink treats as plain. The example of Target stores proves the ascendancy, as it hires world-class designers to provide sleek toilet brushes and cool wastebaskets for budget-conscious consumers. But a problem lingers, he says: Information Age habits and assumptions remain in force. Information Age skills have served so well and yielded so much well-being that people don’t realize the conversion in process.

Pink’s book is an announcement of the turn, and an advice manual. The paradigm shift he takes care of in 60 pages, then devotes six chapters to ways of developing “a whole new mind.” Each chapter covers a new “sense” in a nomenclature that will thrill arts educators: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning. Design adds beauty to function, Story adds drama to argument, Meaning adds, well, meaning to material plenty, etc. Pink supplies concrete tips for joining the movement: “Keep a Design Notebook,” he counsels, and “When you see a great design, make a note of it.” To cultivate empathy, eavesdrop on conversations and try to feel the others’ feelings. To deepen the sense of play, join online communities for gamers, or dissect a joke. Take an acting class, read Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, and learn to draw on the right side of the brain.

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