“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind — computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands.”
This starts and sets the tone for the thought-provoking best-seller A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink. In an easy-to-read way, Dan outlines the changes that are underway, as well as how to develop ourselves in order to thrive in this new era.
Half-a-Mind Is Not Enough
A Whole New Mind is based extensively on the classic left/right brain metaphor — and I must say it’s a very useful one in making the point of the book.
In the last few decades, most of the thriving professionals were those who excelled in “left-brain thinking” — information processing, sequential thinking, analysis, logic, organization, numeric ability and attention to detail.
Lately, however, information is getting easier and easier to acquire. Knowledge that was once locked behind hard-to-earn degrees is becoming widely and cheaply available. In this new world, a great deal of the information processing we performed can now be cheaply automated or assigned to high-qualified professionals overseas — for a fraction of the cost.
Although “left brain skills” continue to be useful, they’re not enough anymore. The rules of the game are changing.
Right Brain Rising
In order to thrive in this new era of abundance of cheap processing capabilities, we must acquire a new set of skills. These skills are usually associated with “right brain characteristics”, such as holistic thinking, synthesis, intuition, estimation and emotional literacy. This paragraph from the book sums it up well:
“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. The ability to empathize 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.”
If this sounds a bit fluffy for you, that’s exactly the point. They only sound like that because we’re too much in the habit of using only our ‘sharp’, left-brain mind. We’ve been using much less brainpower than we can. That’s a luxury we can’t afford anymore.
A Framework for Thriving in This New Era
The good news is that those “right brain skills” are already natural to humans — they only got atrophied.
In the book, Dan groups these skills in six aptitudes, exploring each one of them in detail. And this is what I most enjoy about the book: you can use the six aptitudes as a framework for developing and assessing how your skills measure up.
Here are the six aptitudes:
- Design (not just function). Create solutions that go beyond providing the desired utility, but that are enriched with significance and pleasantness.
- Story (not just argument). Create compelling narratives, enriching dry facts with emotion.
- Symphony (not just focus). Synthesize and put pieces together, combine seemingly unrelated ideas and be able to see the big picture.
- Empathy (not just logic). Be in the other guy’s shoes and learn to intuit feelings and read emotions.
- Play (not just seriousness). Blur the solid line between work and play and embrace well-being, lightheartedness, laughter, games and humor.
- Meaning (not just accumulation). Transcend the quest for material accumulation and pursue more significant desires. Find meaning in life and develop your intuition.
Contrary to what I initially thought, as ‘soft’ as these aptitudes look, you can methodically develop them. At the end of each chapter, Dan proposes exercises and provides additional resources so you can further pursue each one of them.
Downloadable Book Summaries
As I usually do with great books, I summarized it using mind mapping. Mind mapping is, in itself, a ‘whole-brain activity’, so it was particularly fun creating one for this book. Enjoy!
Get the mind map for A Whole New Mind: