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Restore Balance to the Force: Critiquing A Whole New Mind February 7, 2011

Posted by meganrast in A Whole New Mind, Design Thinking.

A review of previous Haas MBA’s blog posts on Daniel Pink’s 2006 book A Whole New Mind shows depth on describing left-brained vs. right-brainedbackground information, and the ever-easier ability to poke holes in dated information.   Pink does an excellent job describing neuroscience, making the case for design-thinking in business, and supporting the softer, holistic side of human abilities above the long-standing analytics of your typical knowledge worker.

In light of the forces of automation, globalization and affluence, his points regarding the need for design-based holistic thinking for in order to stay on innovation’s leading edge are well made.  If it weren’t for a belief that my skillset is unique in the post-MBA marketplace, the lengthy discussion of “Abundance, Asia and Automation” would have instilled panic at my life choices.   The short of it is to ask yourself: can someone overseas do it cheaper?  Can a computer do it faster?  Am I fulfilling a transcendent, unmet human need?

Whether Pink sparked this discussion, or encapsulated design in the zeitgeist of emotional intelligence in leadership, his book is still a good read for new-comers to the space.  His values of “Story,” “Empathy” and “Meaning” are particularly important in light of the Great Recession when consumer trust in corporations has eroded significantly.


But I am a Haas MBA, and thanks to our dear Dean Lyons, we have our own well-designed symphony of cultural values to give meaning to our time in business school: one of which is “Questioning the Status Quo.”  So instead of propping up the book with another mildly positive posting, I’m taking a critical stand that Pink’s book undermines itself.   Let me explain.

Chapter 2 is dedicated to principle that cognition requires both the left and right sides of the brain.  Pink argues that pseudo-science wasted years arguing which side of the brain was more important, when our current understanding reveals the need for both sides of our brain to work in concert.  That is to say the strength for someone analytical and logical (a “left-brainer”) comes from building up our holistic, perceptive capabilities (from the “right-brain”).

Subscription to the Daniel Pink orthodoxy would have me run away from my MBA towards his described “new MBA”: the Masters of Fine Arts.  In his fever to make this point, however, Pink goes full-tilt towards the right brain and loses the balance inherit in modern neuroscience: that we need BOTH sides.  Businesses that hire MFAs without a shred of financial and analytic capabilities are doomed to make sub-optimal decisions.  Businesses that hire MBAs without exposure to design-thinking and story-telling are going to miss the “big picture” and strategic opportunities in the competitive landscape.  The power comes from being multi-disciplinary, not from one side over the other.

To take the argument one step further, we newly minted MBAs are already getting a heavy dose of the “right-brained” skillsets in design-thinking, leadership communication, story-telling and emotional intelligence (for any current Haas MBAs, I only need say the word “BILD”).  I doubt my counterparts getting their MFAs are similarly multi-tasking in financial models or analytics.   Just as I doubt MBAs from 10 or more years past are exposed to these concepts.

But though I’m an idealist sort of MBA, I know the real economics of the situation.  Bestsellers rarely become so by using moderation and qualifications, which means we are doomed to read books with an overly-extreme point of view.   A title of “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers (with the skillsets of a Left Brainer) or Vice Versa Will Rule the Future” just doesn’t have the same pithy ring.


A Whole New Mind December 12, 2009

Posted by Pau Min Wong in A Whole New Mind, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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In the past, I have always envied people with a creative knack, especially those who are able to make a living with their creative and artistic abilities. I envied them because I’ve found them to be true to themselves, have the tenacity to stand firm on their interest and pursue a rewarding career doing what they enjoy most. It must be that they enjoy doing what they do because otherwise, they would have succumbed to the left minded social pressures of the 21st
century. Reading this book gave me the startling realization that “right” minded people, once seen as the social outcast, will eventually be powering the next wave of economic transformation.

To those who are like me, a typical “left” brainard MBA, this book is definitely a good source of information for ways to improve “right” brain thinking. I do strongly believe that with diligent practice, every ability can be attained and improved over time. As Malcolm Gladwell identified in his book Outliers, successful people were great at what they do simply because they were given a headstart, an opportunity to clock up massive hours of practice and training ahead of everyone else, not because they were born great.

So, it’s about time for us to start putting our “right” minds to work – “right” brain gym time! Design threadmill, Storytelling benchpress, Symphony abcrunch, Empathy dumbbells, Play rowers and Meaning ellipticals…bring them on!

a whole new mind December 9, 2009

Posted by roshanbhula in A Whole New Mind.
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A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink, argues that the world has reached a point where traditional left-brain thinking, which includes analytical, logic based methods, is now less important than right-brain thinking, which includes meaning, empathy, and creativity.  The three main causes for this, according to Pink, are abundance, Asia, and automation. The abundance of goods available today is making people seek more meaning in their lives and purchases, rather than accumulating more.  Similarly, the ability to outsource work to Asia or have it replaced by faster automation and software makes many traditional left-brain skills, like programming, engineering, and financial analysis, less meaningful today than in the 20th century.

Instead, Pink argues that 5 personal attributes will make workers in the 21st century more successful: Design, Empathy, Story, Play, and Meaning. For each, the book outlines its importance in today’s society and provides resources on how to improve them in your personal life or organization.

A Whole New Mind should be a very interesting read for people with limited knowledge of design thinking, but its core message is very simplistic compared to more recent design books. The resources, however, such as blogs, books, and exercises, should be very useful and interesting for everyone interested in learning more about improving these skills.

A Whole New Mind, and me. December 9, 2009

Posted by Tony Mignot in A Whole New Mind.
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The world has gone through different phases: agricultural, industrial, and information, where we are now. But this current phase is threatened by three factors: abundance (now, people want more than quality at a cheap price, they want beauty), Asia (more and more jobs can be outsourced), and automation (more and more jobs can be executed by computers as long as they can be distilled into a set of rules). These factors will force us into a new phase, which Daniel Pink calls: the conceptual age.

In order to be successful in the conceptual age, we will have to not only excel at left-brain skills (analysis, linear thinking), but also at right-brain skills (synthesis, simultaneous thinking), much needed by MBA students. This combination of complementary skills is described as a whole new mind.

Left-brain thinkers dominate the information age. To help us develop right-brain skills, Daniel Pink identifies six aptitudes: design (create something that is also beautiful), story (sell benefits, not features), symphony (combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new), empathy (forge relationships), play (increase productivity), and meaning (add purpose).

Just for fun, here’s a video shown by our corporate finance (the archetype of a left-brain directed discipline) professor, about the power of good story:

When I read this book, I realized that many guest speakers and professors must have read it too. They often mentioned examples and exercises that come directly from this book in their presentations. I was happy to finally get this message straight from the horse’s mouth.

A whole new mind allowed me to take a step back. All these years, I’ve been studying engineering, and working in software development. Two years ago, I decided to go back to school to study business. Without being aware of it, I was forcing myself into a left-directed mindset. After all, when I was about 12 years old, a vocational advisor recommended that I study art. I went for mathematics because I couldn’t envision what kind of job I would have access to if I studied art.

According to Daniel Pink, the challenge for me now, is to finally muscle up my right brain and get it back in shape.

Next stop: go from design thinking to design doing.

Yet another review on a Whole New Mind December 8, 2009

Posted by Hernan Haro in A Whole New Mind, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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It’s true that if you are reading this book for the first time in 2010 you will not get very surprised. That’s fine, and makes a lot of sense, since Daniel Pink was describing what was already going on in 2005 and is expected to keep going on for the foreseeable future. Having read some books and articles about creativity, design and innovation, I can’t say that “A Whole New Mind” had a huge impact on me, but it certainly put it all together in a nice way.

This book is also full of exercises, online references and ideas that Daniel suggest to those that want to exercise the six senses needed to achieve success in the Conceptual Age. For those for whom all this “right brain thing” stills sounds a little bit weird, I would definitely recommend this book as a good starting point.

A Whole (Not So) New Mind December 8, 2009

Posted by Daniel Perl in A Whole New Mind, Uncategorized.
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I imagine that I would have gotten much more out of this book if I had read it in August when this class began, but tackling it in November after three months of a steady design thinking diet left me generally unimpressed. Maybe it’s the case that Pink’s ideas were so innovative and influential that they’ve been built upon and emulated by many of the other design thinkers we’ve read… but I’m biased towards the explanation that he’s aggregated the work of others without contributing too many groundbreaking insights of his own. Or maybe this class has done such a good job that all of this seems generally elementary.

For what it’s worth, Pink says that there are six key elements to R-Directed (Right-Brain) thinking: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning. I thought that the Story (importance of using compelling stories, especially metaphor and archetypes) and Symphony (ability to synthesize and manage complex elements) sections were the most compelling. One joke from the book for Symphony seemed to resonate with my group… the comedian Sid Caesar said, “The guy who invented the wheel, he was an idiot. But the guy who invented the other three, he was a genius.”

In sum, I think that this would be a good intro book for someone with little exposure to the concepts we discuss in this class… but for the rest of us I think it’s okay to skip it.

A Whole New Mind (ok, really just a whole new right-brained mind) December 7, 2009

Posted by Muckzak in A Whole New Mind.
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Perhaps I’m just cynical…  I never thought myself to be quite so dismissive but this is the second book in this class that induced multiple eye-rolls…  My mother would probably have smacked me if she saw my utter disrespect during a few moments of mental sparring with Mr. Pink. 

This book has been on my bookshelf for a couple of years.  The premise really appeals to me – holistic approach to thinking and living.  Count me in. 

Unless by counting me in, you actually mean that my mere existence is inferior.  I may have a problem with that assumption…

Daniel Pink sets out to convince us that it is no longer sufficient to only rely on pure analytical core competencies.  I can agree with that… however, he continues to diminish the importance of sound technical quantitative competencies IN FAVOR of creative and design thinking approaches.  In fact, he touts GM as progressively understanding that they’re in the ART BUSINESS.  (mind you, the book was published in 2005).  As a taxpayer, I’m offended. 

There were some good ideas in A Whole New Mind but I embraced them within my own mental model.  Primarily, I thought thinking through the implications of Asia, Abundance and Automation was a useful excercise.  I also thought its presentation of Design’s importance was compelling.  However, the book tries to preach its beliefs on all aspects of a person’s life.  That would imply that said person’s life (mine as an example), currently, is missing the mark.  Is this book the key to enlightenment?

(insert eye-roll)

The case for right & left brain thinkers December 6, 2009

Posted by cindy333 in A Whole New Mind, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink shares 6 aptitudes that he believes are essential for fostering right brain thinking: design, story, symphony, empathy,play, and meaning.  The premise is that globalization and the increasing frequency of jobs being outsourced, the rise of technology and automation, and our society’s overabundance of resources has resulted in a backlash against traditional left-brain thinking.

Backing up for a bit — what’s left-brain versus right-brain thinking? Biologically, our brains are divided into two hemispheres. The left-brain is good at sequential reasoning, analysis, and words.  The right-brain is strong on holistic reasoning, pattern recognition, and interpretation of emotions and nonverbal expressions.  This insight can be extrapolated further to describe different ways of thinking and different approaches to the world.  People who are more left-brain leaning tend to be lawyers, accountants, engineers.  Those on the right, the artists, designers, writers.

Pink makes a strong case for integrated right- and left-brain thinkers.  In today’s world, it’s important to maintain balance but in particular, to foster traditional “right-brain” thinking.  To do so, Pink offers different exercises to allow the left-brain thinker to extend beyond their comfort zone and engage in improvisation, story telling, drawing, and playing games.

Given the 14-week semester that we’ve spent, as students in Sara Beckman’s Design and Systems Thinking class, I didn’t find Pink’s book particularly insightful or novel.  Many of the exercises and concepts were ones that have been shared by past speakers or previous readings.  Perhaps that’s a testament to Sara’s success in fostering “whole mind” MBA students this semester, or perhaps Pink’s book is better left as an introductory reader to the concepts behind design thinking.

Revenge of the Right (not that Right) December 1, 2009

Posted by milimittal in A Whole New Mind.
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Daniel Pink writes music to my ear.  As an R-directed thinker, I have forced myself to the confines of the L-directed corporate world for a few years, and came to the most R-inspiring MBA program I could find.  Pink tells me that my time has come to rule the world!  Finally.  (kidding; I don’t want to rule the world – that would take way too much time).

In all seriousness, A Whole New Mind is a well packaged version of many of the things we’ve learned in Design Thinking.  Pink makes the case that three global trends (abundance, Asia, and automation) have converged to make R-directed thinking more critical to our society. As left-brain work becomes outsourced and automated, and people focus more on meaning than on utility, the need for Rs in our businesses, government, and lives becomes urgent.

Pink goes on to discuss what he dubs ‘the six senses,’ which, in some way, echo the tools and themes we’ve learned practiced in this course: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning.

Design – well, we’ve clearly explored design thinking, presentation design, and design work in our journals.  Story – we’ve seen and practiced in our improvisation session and in our ethnographic work.  Symphony (aka, the ability to synthesize rather than analyze) – this we have seen in systems thinking and also have practiced in our synthensizing post-it exercises.  Empathy – this we also practiced in our improvisation (“Yes, and”) and in our ethnographic work.  Play  –  this is the spirit of the class.  Meaning – the whole basis of this class is to think about something that has meaning – the ways we think, self-awareness and outer-awareness of the world.

I’ve gone over the ‘short blog-post rule’ so I end here.  I highly recommend this book – it’s a nicely packaged version much of what we’ve learned/explored.