When Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future first came out in 2005 (Riverhead Books), I thought it was one of the most important books I had read in a long time. Now available in paperback with some new material, it’s more important than ever.
Roughly, here is the thesis. Our rise to prosperity over the last few decades has been largely driven by left-brain activities: adding up numbers, becoming more efficient, writing computer code. Now, says Pink, we need to bring both sides of the brain into balance. Despite the subtitle about right-brainers ruling the world, I believe that Pink is really saying we just need to use both sides of our brain.
I have watched – since Russia launched Sputnik in the late 1950s – our obsession with science and math. Still today the newsmagazines run cover stories about how we are falling behind the East Asian countries in our science and math scores, and that we should be worried about it. I understand that concern and agree that we need to continuously find ways to improve our education system, and work to improve our performance in science and math.
But at the same time, it has always been clear to me that the core skills of leaders are communication – writing and speaking – and that most businesses are really applied social sciences: economics, psychology, and sociology. The man who runs Microsoft today and the fellow who built AOL – back when it was a great, entrepreneurial company – are both former brand managers at Procter & Gamble. Which means to me that they are, in effect, “practicing sociologists.” Their main concern has been with people, how they make decisions, how they use technology. Enterprise is above all else a human activity.
What has in general made America the strongest and richest country on earth has been our creativity, often applied in such “low tech” industries as retailing, movie making and television, and lodging and food service. The US is the world leader in most of these industries.
As I observed and studied great corporate and non-profit builders and leaders, I noted that many were liberal arts majors – people with broad interests. In fact, the man who I believe most understood management was Peter Drucker. If you read his works, you quickly see the demographer, the sociologist, the psychologist, and the humanist coming through. Much as I personally love numbers and the scientific method myself, you won’t find a lot of numerical tables or formulas in Drucker’s work.
So I worry just as much that we might be falling down in English and history as I worry that we are falling down in science and math. We must excel at everything. We need to bring every part of our mind – and soul – to every venture.
Stated simply, A Whole New Mind was the first book I have seen that clearly and simply made a strong case for these concerns of mine. Pink, a very smart fellow, describes at length the “six senses” that he believes are critical, skills needed for the future: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Each of these is more important than you might imagine. And none are hard to grasp or unfamiliar – they are all very human.
If you have not already devoured this book, it’s not too late – everything he says is even more relevant today than it was when he first penned the ideas.