Saturday, January 23, 2010

On reading Dan Pink "a Whole New Mind" as a precursor to "Drive"

Last summer at NeoCon 2009 Dan Pink lectured to a standing room only crowd in Chicago on ‘Motivation’ which I attended. There Pink expanded our thinking about what drives motivation and creativity. This is the subject of his new book "Drive", just released. Because Drive wasn't available then, I picked up his 2005 book a the conference, "A Whole New Mind", a New York Times and Business Week Bestseller to form a clearer context while reading Drive which I just now purchased. Here's an overview from his site:

"The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of “left brain” dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities-inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate. That’s the argument at the center of this provocative and original book, which uses the two sides of our brains as a metaphor for understanding the contours of our times. " (from

Pink illustrates work through the ages in an apt visual metaphor of a Neanderthal hunter-gathering, to a farmer in agrarian based society of cultivation and production, leading to the factory, then to knowledge workers, a trend coined by Peter Drucker a generation ago, to today's stage showing a cultural creative wielding a paint brush and palette. (p.50). The cultural creative wields the paintbrush like a conductor of a symphony. In fact he calls it a “150 year three act drama” beginning with the Industrial Age, leading into the Information Age and shifting yet again now into the so called “Conceptual Age”. It’s a time where “high touch and high concept” form the armature around the core of information age type skills and work. In short, we need to move beyond reliance on old patterns of work and production borne from the Information Age.

Today, the distribution of left-brain dominated work overseas leaves an uncertain future for today's workers like accountants, bankers, computer programmers, engineers of all kinds, customer service professionals in call centers etc. As a work culture we saw great success honing these skills and developing new information technologies. In a sense we’ve put ourselves in a developmental box which we must figure out how to leap over by shifting to new behaviors.

He asks us to ask ourselves three basic questions; "Can someone overseas do it cheaper? Can a computer do it faster? Am I offering something that satisfies the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age?" If you answer yes to any you might continue reading on to the second part of his book.

Working with the Right brain or R-directed thinking as Pink describes in the Part two of the book may lead us into an more empowered future. Pink identifies six creative forces to help our collective transition - Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning. Hearing Pink emphasize the importance of Design at NeoCon as a driver of business and value creation immediately peaked the audience's interest as a lead into his thoughts on what motivates us. He used this as a lead-in to how the “carrot and the stick” incentives based approach is broken and needs to be replaced by more effective strategies.

He worked us up by describing the power of design to transform brands, organizations, our built environment and eco-cultural realities. Successful design integrates functional, cultural, financial and environmental concerns together in a sometimes less than rational manner. The power of story, the ability to orchestrate complex parts in symphonic manners, to build empathy and significance, to be playful and most of all find and bring meaning to our work and the value it produces can shift the world of work firmly into the “Conceptual Age”. Using creative value adding R-directed thinking can help companies differentiate themselves in the global as well as local marketplace.

Five years after publication I see only further transformation of our nascent social media present where so many of us text, tweet, facebook and update our status on Linked-In. Nouns are now verbs in the topsy turvy world of R-directed value creation Pink foresaw five or so years ago. Shaping experience and perceptions alongside the information stream so vitally sustaining our world now tends to take precedence over the L-directed skills so relevant to the information age.

Over the last five years did Pinks book inspire companies and individuals to see their situation anew and shift their behaviors modeling on what they learned in the book and others like it? I know I’ve read other books written around that time by Tom Friedman (The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded) and IDEO’s Tom Kelly’s “Ten Faces of Innovation" sharing similar factors and trends. Taken together they must have shaped businesses and thinking around innovation. I will be looking for examples of companies and thinkers who used these ideas and see what happened. Did they find success? Did they build great brands and innovative products?

With last year’s economic disasters I wonder now how valid is Pink’s premise is that we’re in the “Conceptual Age” and success lies in R-directed creative oriented thinking? The Conceptual Age as Pink described was based on a time of abundance and prosperity. That evaporated over the last year and a half. When it’s not so easy to do business is this kind of thinking essential or expendable? Times like now require rapid adaptation, invention and a flexibility and willingness to try new ideas and strategies. In short, it demands a desire and passion to innovate and motivate, to make moves outside of the box.

I’ll be looking for answers to these questions both near and far and hope to report back over the next few months about what I find. I’m looking for companies and entrepreneurial types who read Pink’s book and for better or worse worked with “A Whole New Mind’s ideas”? Contact me with your suggestions. As an architect and designer I hope they proved useful and I’d like to learn more about the realities of working with them.

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