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August 23, 2006
A Whole New Mind
 

To compete in today’s workplace, Daniel Pink believes that jobseekers and corporations should place an emphasis on right-brain thinking. He’s the author of A Whole New Mind”: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. In this exclusive interview with TalentZoo.com, Pink talks about ways marketing and advertising professionals, and the companies they work for, can succeed in the global economy.

What is “The Conceptual Age”?
It's a world where all those left-brain, linear, SAT, spreadsheet abilities are still necessary -- but no longer sufficient. And a set of abilities we haven't taken seriously enough – right-brain aptitudes like artistry, empathy, and big picture thinking – now matter most. It's all a result of three big forces – what I call Abundance, Asia, and Automation. Abundance means that we have so many choices that it's impossible to sell goods, services, or experiences that are merely functional. They also have to have some aesthetic, emotional, or even spiritual component. By Asia I mean that routine white-collar work – basic computer programming, basic financial analysis, basic accounting – is racing to wherever it can get done the cheapest. And by Automation, I mean that just as machines replaced our muscles last century, software is replacing our left brains this century. It can do rule-based, right answer tasks better, faster, and cheaper than we can. These three forces are nudging us out of the Information Age into the Conceptual Age.

In the book, you mention that many left-brained jobs and automated tasks are being outsourced to other parts of the world, namely Asia. Are there factors that would prevent the conceptual tasks and right-brained thinking from being outsourced? What are those factors?
Not necessarily. But if you look at professions like nurses or other high touch fields, we're actually importing people to do those jobs. What's more, the U.S. has an edge – at least for now – in many design and inventive fields. I don't see that eroding any time soon. In addition, our economy is much more open and freewheeling than most. We don't demonize failures. The result is that our cultural and economic climate is pretty good at encouraging the sort of bold, inventive thinking that's become a business necessity.

You stress the importance of empathy as a personality trait that’s becoming a key to success. How can someone learn to be more empathic if it doesn’t come naturally?
Yes. That doesn't mean every clueless, maladroit person can become Mother Theresa. But empathy is a fundamental part of what it means to be human. All of us have that capacity. It's just that in a business setting, empathy hasn't always been valued – and therefore hasn't been called out of hiding. That means it's alike a muscle we have haven't exercised. It just needs to be worked back into shape. Think of it like literacy. Very few of us are going to become Toni Morrison. But all of us can develop the capacity to read and write. It's the same thing with empathy. It's a form of emotional literacy.

How does encouraging right-brain thinking promote corporate profitability?
It's not even a matter of encouraging profitability. It's a matter of survival. To make it today, both companies and individuals must do things that are hard to automate, hard to outsource, and that satisfy the growing nonmaterial yearnings of an abundant society. That tends to be right-brain capacities like design, storytelling, and big picture thinking rather than the routines and right answer approach of the Information Age.

In an age where user-created creative content is made and distributed widely with computers and the Net, how can professional right-brain people (writers, art directors, graphic designers) retain their market value?
User-generated content is a glorious thing. But it's a reflection of the democratization of technology. I might be able to make a movie on Final Cut or record a tune on Garage Band. But that doesn't mean I'm able to create something the world wants. So the creative types you mentioned can't simply rely on their facility with these tools. They have to differentiate based on experience and insight. It's like the arrival of CAD-CAM. That technology dramatically minimized the need for hand skills or drafting-with-pencil skills, but it didn't put industrial designers out of business. Indeed, it expanded their ranks. What's more, the rise of the Conceptual doesn't mean we'll have an economy that consists only of so-called creative professionals. As routine abilities get outsourced and automated, all sorts of professions – engineers, lawyers, doctors, and so on – will earn their keep by using the right side of their brain.

How can job seekers communicate their right-brain or empathic qualities on a resume or in a job interview?
The worst way to demonstrate, say, empathy is to include a line on a resume that says, "I'm empathic." The key, I think, is to have a record of accomplishment built on these abilities. That could be a portfolio of work. Or it could be a performance record that you can explain in these terms. For example, perhaps you increased sales of a particular product by redesigning the packaging or you helped double your sales team's performance by giving them training in reading facial expressions. But just as it's hard to routinize these abilities, it's also hard to routinize the ability to screen for them. It definitely makes the hiring process trickier.

Is there a company out there that most people would think wouldn’t embrace right-brain thinking as part of its corporate ethos, yet truly is embracing it?
Procter & Gamble. That company is doing an amazing job integrating right-brain thinking through its business. They've reconfigured their R&D toward a much more freewheeling and horizontal approach that combines ideas from realms far outside the company and the industry. As a result, P&G has launched something like 100 new products in the last couple of years. Amazing. What's more, P&G CEO A.G. Lafley has made design a priority – because it's a way to escape commodity hell. He's said – and these are his word – "It's all design." P& G gets the Conceptual Age big time.


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Daniel H. Pink is the best-selling author of two influential business books, "A Whole New Mind" and "Free Agent Nation." Dan also is a contributing editor at Wired magazine.

As an independent business consultant, he's advised start-up ventures and Fortune 100 companies on recruiting, business trends, and work practices. A free agent himself, Dan held his last real job in the White House, where he served as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore.

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