Book Notes

A Whole New Mind

by Daniel Pink

 I read Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind this week and found lots of good information and resources to reference again. To make my notes to self available, I decided to put them here. I definitely recommend this book to educators, administrators, and others who are interested in the changing reality of our world in the 21st century. We can’t keep educating our students the same way we were taught.

BTW–while getting the URL for Dan Pink’s website and the book, I found his new book just released in April: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. Looks pretty good. It’s now on my Amazon wish list. Who would have imagined a serious book written in manga? At the very least, take a couple of minutes and watch the preview video. Pretty amazing. Just like a preview for a movie. Love it.

Okay, so back to the original point of this post–book notes! Mostly these are the thoughts that I underined in the book, sprinkled with my comments and reactions.

Pink begins by explaining that the future will belong to those of a different mind than the logical, left-brainers of the past. The future will be ruled by those who create, empathize, recognize patterns, and make meaning. We have passed through various developmental stages in the world…the Industrial Age, the Information Age. Now we are beginning the Conceptual Age.

High Concept and High Touch
High concept is about being able “to detect patterns and opportunities, to create  artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new.”
High touch involves “the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to fine joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian (common, everyday) in pursuit of purpose and meaning.” (Yes, I had to look up “quotidian.” There, I learned something new today, and it’s only 7:00 a.m.) Now at every level, individual, family, and organization, professional success and personal fulfillment require a whole new mind.

P. 14–Right Brain Rising–Language is what separates man from beast. Language resides on the left side of the brain. Therefore, the left side of the brain is what makes us human. P. 16-17–What distinguishes us from other animals is our ability to reason analytically.

Four key differences between the right and left hemispheres of our brains:

  1. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body, and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. (Okay, I knew that one. As a leftie, I’ve said for years that we’re the only ones in our right minds…)
  2. The left hemisphere is sequential. The right hemisphere is simulatneous. (All right, I knew that one too—left brain= logical, right brain=creative.) Here’s a great way to distinguish the sequential and simultaneous differences: the right hemisphere is the picture; the left hemisphere is the thousand words. Cool, huh?
  3. The left hemisphere specializes in text; the right hemisphere specializes in context. The left hemisphere handles what is said; the right hemisphere focuses on how it’s said.
  4. The left hemisphere analyzes the details; the right hemisphere synthesizes the big picture. Analysis and synthesis are perhaps the two most fundamental ways in interpreting information. You can break the whole into its components. Or you can weave the components into a whole. (Hmmm, sounds like Bloom was onto something there with the whole “higher order thinking skills” thing.)

Most developed nations have devoted considerable time and treasure to producing left-brained knowledge workers. Success used to be spelled MBA. Now it will be spelled MFA. Three things that have caused that shift are abundance, Asia, and automation. 

Abundance: For most of history, our lives were defined by scarcity. Today, the defining features of social, economic, and cultural life in much of the world is abundance. Interesting facts: today, the self-storage business ($17 billion annually) is larger than the motion picture business. (Wow!) The United States spends more on trash bags than ninety other countries spend on everything. (Double wow!) In an age of abundance, appealing only to rational, logicial, and functional needs is woefully insufficient. 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 prosperity but not fulfilled by it–are resolving the paradox by searching for meaining. (Hmmm….there’s that word again…”meaning.”) The pursuit of purpose and meaning has become an integral part of our lives. Good illustration: Pink reminds us that 100 years ago, electric lighting was rare, but now it is commonplace. Lightbulbs are cheap. Electricity is ubiquitous (my new favorite word.) We don’t need candles any more, but they are a $2.4 billion-a-year industry, not for need, but for beauty.

Asia: Every year, India’s colleges and universities produce more than 350,000 engineering graduates. We can’t touch that kind of volume. Outsourcing is overhyped in the short term, but it is underhyped in the long term. Quite simply, the same work can be done far cheaper in countries like India and China. It’s a no-brainer to move the work there. And that’s nothing new. Remember when everything was “Made in America”? We were the great manufacturers for the planet. Then that work moved overseas, and we had to move in a different direction. Same song, next verse.

Automation: Last century machines proved they could replace human backs. This century, new technologies are proving they can replace himan left brains.  As work becomes automated, engineers and programmers will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence, more on tacit knowledge than technical manuals, and more on fashioning the big picture than sweating the details.

To recap: three forces are tilting the scales in favor of R-Directed (right brained) thiking. Abundance has satisfied, even oversatisfied, the material needs of millions–boosting the significance of beauty and emotion and accelerating individuals’ search for meaning. Asia is now performing large amounts of routine, white-color, L-Directed (left brained) work at significantly lower costs, thereby forcing knowledge workers in the advanced world to master abilities that can’t be shipped overseas. And automation has begun to affect this generation’s white-collar workers in much the same way it did in last generation’s blue-collar workers, requiring L-Directed professionals to devleop aptitudes that computers can’t do better, faster, or cheaper.

In the Agricultural Age, the farmer kept everything going. During the Industrial Age, factories and assembly lines powered the economy. The mass production worker was noted for physical strength and personal fortitude. During the Information Age, the knowledge worker was proficient in L-Directed thinking. Now in the Conceptual Age, the creator and empathizer will be masters of R-Directed thinking.

L-Directed thinking remains indispensible. It’s just no longer sufficient. In the Conceptual Age, what we need instead is a whole new mind.

  1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
  2. Can a computer do it faster?
  3. Is what I’m offering in demand in the age of abundance?

High tech is no longer enough. We’ll need to supplement our well-developed high-tech abilities with abilities that are high concept and high touch. High concept involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft satisfying narratives, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention. High touch involves the abilitiy to empathize, to understand the subtelties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian (there’s that word again!) in pursuit of purpose and meaning.

As people mature, their cognitive patterns become less abstract (left-brain oriented) and more concrete (right-brain oriented) which results in a sharpened sense of reality, increased capacity for emotion, and enhancement of their sense of connectedness (psychologist David Wolfe). Meaning is the new money.

The Six Senses

  1. Not just function, but also DESIGN.
  2. Not just argument, but also STORY.
  3. Not just focus, but also SYMPHONY.
  4. Not just logic, but also EMPATHY.
  5. Not just seriousness, but also PLAY.
  6. Not just accumulation, but also MEANING.

I’m pretty sure Dan Pink must be a scrapbooker. All six of these concepts relate pefectly to the art of scrapbooking.

DESIGN: Today we must all be designers. Design is a classic, whole-minded aptitude.  Design is utility enhanced by significance. Design is interdiscipliniary. We’re producing people who can think holistically. The ability to solve problems, understand others, and appreciate the world around us are essential abilities of the Conceptual Age. Design in its simplest form is an activity of creating solutions. Design is something that everyone does every day. Design means business, and business means design. One of design’s most potent economic effects is the capacity to create new markets–givng the world something it didn’t know it was missing. A study on the design of schools found that even if the students, teachers, and educational approach remained the same, improving a school’s physical environment could increase test scores by as much as 11 percent. (Hello! All you who obsess over things like CSAP and ACT scores…are we listening here?)
Design is a high-concept aptitude that is difficult to outsource or automate.

Some of his suggestions that I will use: (there are many more in the book)

  1. Keep a design notebook. (Again with the scrapbooking thing!) Take note of things that are appealing (or not), useful (or not), etc.
  2. C-R-A-P-ify your designs. I’m TOTALLY using this with my technical writing classes when teaching layout and document design. Awesome! (It’s also perfect for scrapbooking.)
    Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. (From Robin Williams’–no, not that one–book The Non-Designer’s Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice.) If you heed her CRAP, you’ll avoid materials that look like, uh, not very good.
  3. This will make a cool writing prompt. Put it on a table: Find an object that holds a special place in your heart. Explore the following questions:
    * When you look at or use this object, what does it make you think of? Past experiences? The skill with which you can use it? The person who made it? There will be some satisfying experience or feeling that you may be able to uncover.
    * How does this object affect each of your five senses? There will be a series of details or aspects of design that will trigger your senses.
    * Think of how you have connected the sensory clues you receive from the obect to the way you think and feel about it. Can you see the connections you have made?
    Developing the ability to consciously select designs that connect with our emotions should help us populate our lives with meaningful, satisfying objects and not just more stuff.

 STORY: Stories are easier to remember–because in many ways, stories are how we remember. In the past, finding facts/information was more challenging–trips to libraries, books on dusty shelves, lots of searching through printed text to find what we wanted. But today facts are ubiquitous (I love that word), nearly free, and available at the speed of light.  Recently I read (wish I could remember where…) a discussion about how much information do we need to know (memorize) when facts and information are so easy to access? I don’t memorize very many phone numbers any more because they are available in my Contacts list, which is available on my Palm phone, my iPod, my home computer, and my school laptop–all synchronized thanks to Outlook. Anyway….back to the story here….. When facts become so widely available and instantly accesible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. Story is context enriched by emotion. Story is high concept because it sharpens our understanding of one thing by showing it in the context of something else. Story is high touch because stories alost always pack an emotional punch. A fact is “The queen died and the king died.” A story is “The queen died, and the king died of a broken heart.” When so much routine knowledge work can be reduced to rules and farmed out to fast computers and smart L-Directed thinkers abroad, the more elusive abilities embodied by Story become more valuable.  Joseph Campbell argued that all myths–across time and across cultures–contain the same basic ingredients and follow the same general recipe. Storytelling doesn’t replace analytical thinking. It supplements it by enabling us to imagine new perspectives and new worlds. Abstract analysis is easier to understand when seen through the lens of a well-chosen story. 

In the field of medicine, stories hold an important role. A scientifically competent medicine alone cannot help a patient grapple with the loss of health or find meaning in suffering. Along with scientific ability, physicians need the ability to listen to the narrativews of the patient, grasp and honor their meanings, and be moved to act on the patient’s behalf.

Barry Lopez: “If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needss a story more than food to stay alive.

We are our stories. We can see this yearning for self-knowledge through stories in many places–in the astoninshingly popular scrapbooking movement, where people assemble the artifacts of their lives into a nasrrative that tells the world, and maybe themselves, who they are and what they’re about, and in the surging popularity of genealogy as millions search the Web to piece together their family histories. (See, I told you Dan Pink was a scrapbooker!)

Stories provide context enriched by emotion, a deeper understanding of how we fit in and why that matters.

Some of his suggestions that I will use: (there are many more in the book)

  1. Write a mini-saga. Mini-sagas are extremely short stories–just fifty words long…no more, no less. b(Example on page 120 by Jane Rosenberg)
  2. Riff on opening lines. This can be done as a group activity. Ask everyone to write an opening line on an index card. Toss the cards into a hat. Then, taking turns, have each person draw a card and, on the spot, tell a story that begins with the line on the card. (Reminds me of Who’s Line Is It Anyway?)
  3. Play photo finish. Select a photo (from a newspaper, a magazine, even dusty shoe boxes) and fashion a tale about what is happening in the picture. Challenge yourself not only to describe the obvious, but also tell the “back story”. (Sounds like “Flicktion” to me.)
  4. Experiment with digital storytelling. Storytelling bootcamp,,,
  5. Who are these people? Observe people in public. Don’t just ask the question. Answer it. Make up a story about two of the people in your proximity. See more details on p. 126.


 Symphony is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationship between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.

When the left brain doesn’t know what the right brain is doing, the mind is free to see relationships and to integrate those relationships into a whole. Example on p. 133 of FedEx logo–I never saw the arrow between the e and x before.  See it?

Symphony is largly about relationships. People must know how to link apparently unconnected elements to create something new. And they must become adept at analogy–at seeing one thing in terms of another. There are ample opportunities for three types of people: the boundary crosser, the inventor, and the metaphor maker.

Perspective is more important than IQ. Boundary crossers lead hyphenated lives filled with hyphenated jobs and enlivened by hyphenated identities. 

Example of 1970’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercial (I remember this one well) “Two great tastes that taste great together.” The “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Theory of Innovation.” Sometimes the most powerful ideas come from simply combining two existing ideas nobody else ever thought to unite. (mash-ups?)

The flashes of insight that precede “Aha!” moments are accompanied by a large burst of neural activity i the brain’s right hemisphere. However, when we work out our problems in a more methodical, L-Directed way, this “eureka center” remains quiet.

Most inventions and breakthroughs come from reassembling existing ideas in new ways.

Metaphor–that is, understanding one thing in terms of something else–is another important element of Symphony. Metaphor is central to reason. Human thought processes are largely metaphorical. Metaphorical thinking is also important because it helps us understand others. A large part of self-understanding is the search for appropriate personal metaphors that make sense of ou lives. The more we understand metaphor, the more we understand ourselves.


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