Book Review: A Whole New Mind

“A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”
By Daniel H. Pink
Riverhead Trade; Rep Upd edition (March 7, 2006)
288 pp.
ISBN: 978-1594481710


A book subtitled “Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” is already a challenging concept. Even though with that statement the book risks not being taken seriously, it is a fun, readable, and motivating manifesto for living a better life today and anticipating a different world in the new future.


“We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer like capabilities of the Information Age,” says author Daniel Pink, “to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.”


The old, bygone age is populated with computer programmers, lawyers, MBAs, number crunchers – logical thinkers, left brained thinkers. In the new, coming age? Creators, empathizers, pattern recognizers, meaning makers. Artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers. Right brained thinkers


To be sure, lawyers, MBAs and computer programmers are not automatically excluded from the list of the new thinkers, nor will they be hopelessly relegated to the dust heap next to eight-track tapes and rotary phones. Still, the MBAs and programmers who reframe their own experience and training into a right-brained, big picture story are the ones who stand to reap the greatest benefit in this Conceptual Age.


The first part is about what Pink calls the broad animating idea of the Conceptual Age. It describes the emotional, intuitive, and creative right brain next to the logical, structured, and mathematical left-brain. Far from arguing that it is now time for the right brain’s dominance, Pink claims (logically? creatively?) that it is now time for us to accept the relevance of the right brain on equal footing with the left. Just as a coin cannot have heads without tails, or the east cannot not exist with the west, neither can both sides of our brain act effectively without the collaboration of the other.


In the second part of Whole New Mind, the author turns it into a how-to manual while defining a new version of our well-known six senses. The new six senses – Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning – focus on an aspect of life where the right brain shines. Even more interesting, and more relevant to the meaning of Whole New Mind, is that these new six senses are a function not of the individual human body but of many humans working together in a group, a society, a culture. Perhaps this point more than any other makes the most successful argument that we should give the right brain its due.


For it would seem that working in groups, collaborating with others, and sharing tasks, responsibilities, and ownership with others that individuals can reach their own potential. Perhaps only the right brain can appreciate that delicious irony. The left-brain is probably balancing a checkbook somewhere. Noting that intuitively making complex neuro-economic, or highly inter-subjective cost-benefit formulations, a right hemisphere dominate function, are “rational” choices we make without much conscious deliberation.


Actually, the field of Behavioral Economics, first acknowledged in the early 21st Century as a micro-economic discipline, building upon applied neuroscience. The field focuses on personal decision making during ordinary social exchange, forming humanities essential social nature. “Social Attribution,” a decidedly right hemisphere function, allows for intuitive, automatic complex social behaviors, represents a prime example of nonlinear, conceptual, interpersonal formulations and pattern recognition.


Still confused about how and why to cultivate your right brain? Try on some of these suggestions for starters:


Design: Look around you. Which things in your workspace were designed? They all were! Do things work? Do your things make you comfortable? Save money? Add time to your day? Make you look better, richer, smarter? What sense of meaning do you get from your things? After reading this section, you will never look at your stuff the same way again.


Story: Facts are facts, right? Wrong.  How you tell a story, how you frame the events, how richly you describe what happens – these simple, centuries-old narrative tricks give power to facts. How can sway your toughest critic, sell something, engage indifferent people into a new passion? Just tell a story. We are still human, and we want to know what other humans have experienced.


Symphony: The author calls his version of symphony as “a signature ability of composers and conductors” which applies in a much wider area. While technical and routine jobs are shipped overseas, the need remains for recognizing patterns, seeing the big picture, sifting through gushes of information for that one nugget that will change your world. Have you considered keeping a metaphor log instead of a regular diary?  Next time you want to ask “why?” ask “why not?” instead.


Empathy: Can you stand in someone else’s shoes and feel what they are feeling? The author argues that empathy is necessary for leadership. Computers cannot do it, off-shored jobs can’t do it either. By knowing and “feeling” what others are feeling, you can persuade, encourage, assist, and lead. Sometimes, people’s most genuine emotions flash on their faces in the tiniest fraction of a second. Did you catch it? It is telling you something that their words are not.


Play: Play is just what you think it is, and is as important for adults as it is for children. Did you laugh out loud today? Did you get so much enjoyment from an activity that it felt like playing? The booming billion-dollar industry of video gaming is expanding way beyond the Sega’s, Nintendo’s and Wii’s where kids spend so many hours.  Moreover, “There’s also evidence that playing video games enhances the right-brain ability to solve problems that require pattern recognition.”


Meaning: The industrial age gave way to the age of abundance and automation. Now, with so many riches, resources, entertainment, and opportunities for doing stuff all around us, ask: Why? Perhaps these actions will help: Say thank you. Pay attention to your spirit. Ask what you would do if you had $20 million and 10 years to live; are you doing that now?  Why not?


In the end, Pink’s picture of a right-brained world fits. Even the writer of this review, surely a right-brained person, had plenty of trouble writing it after reading the book on a Kindle. The space on that Kindle screen was just too tiny, and this book needs a big-picture, holistic, right-brained view.


This book is ideal of those with atypical cognition be their differences in thinking comes from any number of neurodevelopmental discrepancies.  Those persons without the “speck-thought” resulting from privatized speech during formative early years in the developmental acquisition of self-regulation.


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