Sunday, February 21, 2010

The mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Brain power and economics come together in an in-depth look at where we could be headed in the wake of the information age.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Daniel H. Pink. Riverhead Books. 272 pages.


The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, especially when the mind is concerned.

Daniel Pink, a former speechwriter and prolific writer, identifies Asia, abundance and automation as the key forces driving societal changes. Asia, for its cheap workforce and its demands as a growing market; abundance, since we are living in an age of unprecedented plenty; and automation, because most every repetitive commercial task will soon be performed by machines, if it isn't already.

How each of these forces affects us, individually and as a society, is what this book is about — at first.

Pink writes: "We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big picture capabilities of what's rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.''

100% BRAIN
His notion is that the right side of the brain — the artistic half, if you will — can and should be better integrated with the left half — the more logical and rational portion. By doing so, we will be able to deal with the changes in our economy once Asia's dominance really kicks in and whatever economic advantages we possess become far less potent, if not nonexistent.

But Pink is not a grim prophet of doom. He uses the coming changes as a springboard for exploring the nature of personal fulfillment, success and humanity. It's not a touchy-feely self-help manual that he has constructed. But many of his ideas and approaches are wise, compassionate and supportive of a variety of personal and professional endeavors.

It's a pleasant and surprisingly entertaining little trip as he explores the workings of the brain, celebrates the proliferation and democratization of Target's designer products and learns to draw and play games, all as a means of illustrating ways we can think and live in a better, more meaningful and productive manner.

I reviewed Pink's previous effort, Free Agent Nation in July 2001, and though I found it to be well-written and provocative, I was completely unprepared for the breadth and depth of this new book. It's not that I thought that Pink was incapable of such an audacious and powerful work; he seems to be one of those people who excel at many things.

What surprised me about this book is how Pink realized that to empower individuals, it's necessary to really understand and act upon the powerful socioeconomic forces that shape the world economy.

Unlike many of the recent xenophobic screeds that rail against the evils of outsourcing, Pink has figured out several paths that individuals and society can pursue that play to our strengths. The transition will not necessarily be an easy one, but the full engagement of both types of thinking — left- and right-directed — is wholly consistent with many of the qualities that embody traditional American ingenuity and empathy.

So if Pink is correct, we're almost there. All it may take is for individuals and institutions to recognize this reality by using the tools we already possess. And that may well require A Whole New Mind.

Originally published on Monday, May 9, 2005 in The Miami Herald

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