For the New Year…A Whole New Mind

by Mary Lloyd

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Mary Lloyd

Mary Lloyd

Many assume we need to use our analytical brain to get ahead. Others insist moving toward a more creative approach is our only hope. In his book A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink lays out convincing arguments for using both. To create stay-in-America jobs and sturdy careers, we need to mesh creative thought and analytical reasoning as we move from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age.

And since we’ve all been indoctrinated about the analytical stuff since kindergarten or before, Pink takes on the creative stuff. He identifies six aptitudes on which “professional success and personal satisfaction will increasingly depend:” Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. And he claims we can all master them.

Just reading the list brought me up short–a good sign when I’m looking for an intellectual jolt. Starting the book by describing getting his brain scanned totally got my attention. Then he covers what we know about both hemispheres of our brains. And he put to bed the idea that we are either “right brained” or left brained.” We are both and we need to be both to have good lives. But it’s still also true that our cultural norms are skewed toward left brain thinking.

Okay, so far, from what I’m telling you, you might assume this book is good bedtime reading-sure to put you asleep in minutes. But that’s not how he writes and it’s worth your time to see how he creates the case for using our brains differently to thrive personally and in the international economic arena in the years to come.

He cites three significant sources of the change that’s determining who will get ahead: Abundance, Asia, and Automation.

First, abundance…As knowledge workers across the globe acquire the means to buy whatever they want, what they need goes beyond “things.” Beauty, spirituality and emotion become part of buying decisions in times of abundance like the one we’re in. So instead of just buying a wastebasket to hold discarded paper (or using a cardboard box), you seek something more in what you choose-a certain color or shape, specific materials, a socially responsible source. Creating and offering these kinds of products requires both sides of the brain.

The second factor is Asia…the locus of our most intense outsourcing fears. Asia isn’t alone in providing knowledge workers at a fraction of the cost of what an American worker gets paid. But they are the biggest. India alone produces 350,000 engineers a year. Although a great deal of “our” work has gone there already, Pink sees the threat as more perilous in the long term. Knowledge workers in high wage countries will not all lose their jobs instantly. But over time, the left brain work is going to go to the cheapest bidder. That will be the whizzes in developing countries. At the same time, the work that requires an appreciation of context, an ability to be creative to solve the problem, and good customer rapport will stay right here.

The third source of change is automation. Even in the computer industry, the routine functions are being turned over to machines. There’s a British company that’s developed software that writes software, for example. As the humdrum work gets relegated to robots and computers, engineers and programmers will need to recreate themselves as something more to remain of value. Much of what we used to pay lawyers for we can now learn on the Internet. Same deal with medicine. Every knowledge base can be automated. So to thrive, knowledge workers need to become something more than a portal to a database.

Because of these three developments, the creative and relationship skills that reside in the brain’s right hemisphere are becoming more valued. It’s like the transition from physical strength to mental strength when we moved from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. And like before, those who were “big dogs” in the old realm will need to retool. People who can go beyond the left brain thinking and factual analysis in how they solve problems and design products are becoming the new superheroes.

To all of you who’ve said, “But I see both the big picture and the details,” when someone tried to pigeon-hole you as either right or left brained, Dan Pink provides validation. If you can do both, you’re golden. For the rest of us, A Whole New Mind includes succinct, entertaining chapters on how to develop those new capabilities– Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.

So here’s a great New Year’s resolution: work on finding your “whole new brain.” The need to change is real for all of us, but the best part is that what we are moving into is the key to a more fulfilling life as well as a more secure job.

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Mary Lloyd specializes in resources to better use talent over 50. She’s the author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. Her website is http://www.mining-silver.com. She can be reached at mary@mining-silver.com.

About Barbara Morris, R.Ph.

Barbara Morris is editor and publisher of the Put Old on Hold Journal and e-Magazine