Skip to content

A Whole New Mind – book review

In a New York Times column  The New Untouchables, Thomas Friedman writes about a new kind of worker, one that can use creativity and imagine new services and new ways of being in the world. In this article he mentions Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. Intrigued by Friedman’s implicit endorsement – I decided to read Pink’s book.

Upon reading the first chapter of this book I wanted to jump with joy — here was someone articulating my ideas about the kind of skills, mindsets and thinking that is needed in a newly competitive, flat world — where anything that can be digitized will be outsourced.

This new kind of thinking – what he calls “right-brain” thinking has six key aptitudes as described in the Introduction:

  1. Design – “to create artistic and emotional beauty”
  2. Story – “to craft a satisfying narrative”
  3. Symphony – “to combine unrelated ideas into a novel invention” & “to detect patterns and opportunities”
  4. Empathy – “ability to understand the subtleties of human interaction”
  5. Play – “find joy in one’s self and elicit joy in others”
  6. Meaning – “to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning”

Part of this book is focused on describing, defining and supporting each of these definitions. Half of each chapter on aptitudes is devoted to describing the skills to practice in order to become this kind of person – how to create a Portfolio to become more of a right-brain thinker.

What’s important to understand is that Pink does not advocate that we lose our analytical, left-brain thinking in order to become completely creative, right-brain thinkers — but rather we must be both and find an equilibrium between the two.

In the argument for right-brain thinking, there were a couple of  research/studies that I found of interest:

  • (25) UCSF Professor Paul Ekman, famous for creating the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) – tested facial expressions all over the world, and these expressions were interpreted similarly by a majority of the people in a group, whether that was in New Guinea or amongst Bay Area college students.
  • (52) students who study painting excel at noticing subtle details about a patients condition (from the Yale School of Medicine). So yes, a student has to know their medical stuff, but studying painting makes them better doctors.

What was also insightful was his description of design – that good design is a combination of utility and significance (76). The iPhone designers, of course, got this right. They realized that the cellphone had changed from being a logical device about speed and specialized functions, to being an emotional device — about being able to be expressive and customize, fanciful (81).

Stories help us make sense of the world — and in a world full of facts, what matters is putting these facts in context with emotional impact (101). A wonderful quote from this section is from Alan Kay (famous interface designer) – “scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just caveman with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories” (107).

Being able to blend concepts to put together two existing ideas non one else thought to create, being a systems thinker, a pattern recognizer is the essence of the symphony aptitude. Techniques to enhance this skill include keeping a metaphor log (what metaphors do you hear daily) or trying to create a 5-line self-portrait.

On the importance of Empathy I’ve written about before in this blog. Research of interest – one study of aphasics (those with damage to the left-side or analytical side of the brain) are exceptionally good lie-detectors, getting about 70% of the lies. In the Porfolio section, he directs us to a website to practice our EQ = empathy quotient.

When writing about Play and Meaning, Pink’s writing seems to become shallower as nothing he writes really grabbed me in these two sections other than we should play and have meaning in our lives. Perhaps I became tired of the writing, or perhaps I’d read too many book on play and meaningful work that nothing seemed new here.

My main criticism of the book is that it peters out toward the end. And the organization of the book breaks the narrative of the reading (he really is a good writer). The Portfolio or skill-building reference sections are disruptive to the reading. Overall though, I find this a good book, quick read and useful. The Portfolio sections contain many good techniques to jump start your creativity. For this alone, I think the book is worth reading. And without a doubt, what Pink gets right is that anything that can be outsourced cheaper and more efficiently will — what stays will be those who can be imaginative and unique  in the world.

Whether the world will reward the skill sets of creative wonks remains to be seen. I think we are still very much in transition from the Information Age of knowledge workers, to what he calls the Conceptual Age of creators and empathizers. All I can do is keep true to my path of trying to create works of beauty, empathy, utility and significance and hope that others are also moving in the same direction.

Second definitions of aptitudes (65-66):

  1. Not just function but also DESIGN
  2. Not just argument but also a STORY
  3. Not just focus but also SYMPHONY
  4. Not just logic but also EMPATHY
  5. Not just seriousness but also PLAY
  6. Not just accumulation but also MEANING

Posted in book reviews, business.

Tagged with , , , , , , .

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.