Jake Trent

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future

I recently finished reading a great book by Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Naturally, I wanted to determine what my coming destiny was. I guess I already knew that if I painted the closet, I would be my wife’s hero and would get to enjoy some succulent dinner in order to recupe my energy. And I believe that in the (perhaps) distant future, unless I meet an unexpected end, we can all attain great reward and glory. But, in terms of a decade from now, wondering how my career would look and what kind of skills would be appreciable to employers, I picked up this book. How right-brained am I? And how does one go about ruling?

Pink does, I think, a good job laying out his case. His book is well organized, and the voice is engaging and conversational. I do get a little tongue-tied reading this book aloud, however, if I’m wanting to share a particularly riveting passage about neuroscience with my wife because of all the lengthy doctor titles or lofty names of research institutions that produced many of the ideas that Pink compiles in his book. It is, in large part, a compilation, but I think he weaves it together into a compelling narrative.

His thesis? There are three things that will drive you to needing the right side of your brain to succeed in business during the coming years, dubbed the Conceptual Age:

  1. Abundance
  2. Asia
  3. Automation


The world, particularly the Western world, is more affluent than at any other point in history. We essentially have everything that we can imagine ourselves needing or wanting. (And yet somehow we always manage to want more – interesting.) So, when we go to the store to buy a toaster, we don’t have just one option, but many models grace the shelves with many features. We now can move above just favoring function for favoring form. I will have a toaster, because they’re so cheap; everyone has one; but, mine will appeal to me as whimsical or trendy.


During the past decades, left-brain or L-directed thinking has been of the highest value – this consists mathematical, analytical, logic-type thinking. Now, there are many, many more people than there used to be in the Eastern world that have education levels that equal or exceed ours in the U.S. and who are willing to perform the work at a much lower cost.


I witness this at work every day. Jobs that simply consist of performing a regiment of repeatable steps can be done my a computer – and much more quickly and accurately.

So, what can we do to counteract these 3 factors of change? We must constantly evolve:

The forces of Abundance, Asia, and Automation turn goods and services into commodities so quickly that the only way to survive is by constantly developing new innovations, inventing new categories, and (in Paola Antonelli’s lovely phrase) giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing. (Pink, 81)

Pink uses the balance of the book to present these ideas. He calls them “high touch” concepts. They are:

  1. Design
  2. Story
  3. Symphony
  4. Empathy
  5. Play
  6. Meaning

These are all innately human traits that we all have existing levels of experience and comfort in using. But, the argument is that the need is even greater now, given our changing business environment and need to stay competitve, that we exercise them to greater levels of deftness. And apparently I, in a stereotypical L-directed line of work, need all the help I can get:

Go back to those Information Age rock stars, computer programmers. The outsourcing of routine software work is putting a new premium on software engineers with high-concept abilities. As the Indians of the world take over the routine work of software fabrication, maintenance, testing, and upgrading, Conceptual AGe software types will concentrate on novelty and nuance. After all, before the Indian programmers have something to fabricate, maintain, test, or upgrade, that something first must be imagined or invented. And these creations must the be explained and tailored to customers and entered into the swirl of commerce, all of which requires aptitudes that can’t be reduced to a set of rules on a spec sheet – ingenuity, personal rapport, and gut instinct. (57)


I think this is one of the most fun concepts. This speaks the most to the factor of abundance affecting how people choose which products or services they will consume. These products must now be attractive and unique compared to all the other options that exist, because there are simply so many repeat/knock-off ideas. People will decide what most matches their personality and preferences. And so go to town. Make something particularly impressive. New covers on old books are valuable if what was in the book was originally valuable but under-valued. The mediums for design these days are virtually limitless, allowing production of about anything one can imagine.


In this age, where information for everything is so readily available, it will not be enough to merely declare features or services in a series of bulleted highlights. In order to more effectively show how people will be affected by what you have to offer, narratives in the style of testimonials of real people will become more important. People are compelled by a good narrative. Story-telling is a skill that is being increasingly taught in business courses. Most people have been affected by the telling of stories since a very young age. Our predisposition to being caught up in a good plot continues to be shown in our obsession with media. These same story-telling techniques can be used to make what we create more attractive and compelling.


Symphony relates to how we can process the big picture in our minds. A conductor in an orchestra isn’t making any of the sounds at all, he’s merely feeling out the mood of the music and then pulling more volume and expression out or decreasing decibals and suggesting subtleness, to convey that musical mural to the minds of many making up the audience. Hehe.

Successful individuals and organizations must be relentless. They must focus maniacally on invention – while outsourcing or automating much of the execution. This requires those with the ability and fortitude to experiment with novel combinations and to make the many mistakes that inevitably come with an inspiration-centered approach. (138)

Drawing is an interesting example of symphony in action. Drawing is essentially an observation of shapes and their relationship to each other in size and space. Some shapes are not even distinctly shapes by themselves at all, but rather they are implicit shapes – negative space formed from the shapes by which they are surrounded. We need to be able to see these negative spaces in our world and be able to fill them with interesting combinations of the existing products and services around them.


We need to be able to experience the feelings of those that we serve or design products for. In this way, we’ll be able to more closely match what their real needs are and be able to, for instance, relieve some pain of their every day work with greater accuracy because we’re trying to fit into their shoes. Being more attune to the fears, sorrows, joys, or excitement of specific customers or the greater market in general will allow us to react more quickly to opportunities to fill their needs with great business ideas.


Studying the work ethic and production of people over time, it has been discovered (and perhaps now obviously so) that people do their best work when they’re doing something they love and having a good time with it. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but then maybe we should be surprised considering many companies’ cultures still encourage the stoic business brow that graces many a conference room table. I’m not sure what the draw to the business brow is. Perhaps by being so serious we want to be “taken seriously”. Atmospheres that foster more creativity and free-thought and discussion are likely those that are more light-hearted and less brow-beating.

It’s time to rescue humor from its status as mere entertainment and recognize it for what it is – a sophisticated and peculiarly human form of intelligence that can’t be replicated by computers and that is becoming increasingly valuable in a high-concept, high-touch world. (199)


I enjoy working for a good cause as much as the next person. And, in fact, I have the great pleasure of putting my shoulder to the wheel in what I consider the greatest of causes every day. I was a little sceptical about this high-touch concept, however, because I feel that work is something that must be done regardless for the sustinence of myself and my family. But, as Pink described what he means by “meaning”, some of the things that have befuddled me in my observation of the current day became a little clearer.

Current day abundance has really brought us out of having to live day-to-day. The vast majority have what they need to survive and are thus freed to go beyond survival and focus on things that provide extra depth to what they do. This allows their work to leave them more fulfilled and more willing to do extra challenging work extra well.

The paradox of prosperity is that while living standards have risen steadily decade after decade, personal, family, and life satisfaction haven’t budged. That’s why more people – liberated by propserity but not fulfilled by it – are resolving the paradox by searching fror meaning. (35)

Freed from the struggle for survival, we have the luxury of devoting more of our lives to the search for meaning. (218)

Meantime, technology continues its unrelenting march, deluging us with data and choking us with choirces. All these forces have gathered into a perfect storm of circumstances that is making the search for meaning more possible and the will to find meaning the sixth essential aptitude of the Conceptual Age. (218)

Gregg Easterbrook … puts it more boldly: ‘A transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecented scale – involving hundresds of millions of people – and may eventually be recognized as the principal cultural development of our age.’ (219)

Mitroff and Denton also found that companies that acknowledged spiritual values and aligned them with company goals outperformed those that did not. In other words, letting spirituality into the workplace didn’t distract organizations from their goals. It often helped them reach those goals. (224)

After consideration of these, some of my favorite excerpts, I am extremely excited about the opportunities, if not challenges, that the age of abundance has allowed us to experience. Meaning can indeed bring greater possibilities of happiness and fulfillment into our lives.

And indeed, all the factors of change that we’re experiencing – Abudance, Asia, and Automation – will push the boundaries of what we are personally able to accomplish. Our now-honed L-directed thinking mixed with R-directed concepts that we’re striving to exercise will create in us creative and pragmatic inventors of the great products and services of the coming decades. It’s gonna be blasted fun!