A Whole New Mind
How to thrive in the conceptual age

Reviewed by: 
Daniel H Pink
Cyan Books
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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Why was an employee of Ford sacked for smiling in 1940?  Why do the majority of parents cradle a baby in their left arm?  How can you tell the difference between a fake smile and a genuine one?  What role could a “laughter club” play in the development of 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 working of the human mind can be found in this fascinating book.

However, the more fundamental question being addressed by this book is that 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 moved to lower cost economies?

In Pink’s assessment 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 the different halves of the brain.  As long ago as 450BC, Hippocrates observed that humans possessed a “mental duality” driven by the different parts of the brain.  From that time until the 1950’s the left hemisphere of the brain was regarded as the essential part of the brain with the right side being somewhat inferior.  In the 1950’s, Professor Roger Sperry discovered that the right was not inferior to the left, it was just different.  He concluded that the left hemisphere reasoned sequentially, excelled at analysis and handled words and language, whereas the right side reasoned holistically, recognised patterns and interpreted emotions and non-verbal expressions.

But what has the human brain go to do with our economy?

Pink points out that the invention of computer technologies helped move western economies from the Industrial Age into the Information Age, where knowledge was power and where fantastic economies of scale could be achieved by people applying their knowledge rather than their physical labour in the workplace.  However the success that has resulted from the automation of these logical and left-brain directed processes has produced a paradox – since 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 vast numbers of jobs are either being automated as the technology advances or moving overseas to lower cost economies.  In Pink’s words: “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 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 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 just 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.

The book is well written and presents its arguments extremely persuasively giving numerous examples and references to courses, books and web sites that enable the reader to dig deeper into particular topics if they wish.

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.

Daniel 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 by far the best I have come across.

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.

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