The author of this book, Daniel H. Pink, was the chief speech-writer of a recent American president. Depending on your view of America (or of Americans), this fact alone may put you off this book altogether. But don’t let that deprive you of an excellent read. It is a wonderfully insightful book that just might change the way you think – literally!
Pink’s premise is that, left-brain prowess (rational, analytical and logical) alone – skills long associated as the tip of the spear of a strong mind – while still relevant today, may no longer be sufficient. He cites three reasons why this is so and goes on to recommend developing right-brain skills like creativity, synthesis, and empathy if we want to remain competitive in the twenty-first century.
No, this is not another book that tries to establish the ascendancy of one brain hemisphere over the other. Instead, it is one that espouses something the author calls ‘Whole Brain’ thinking.
Abundance, Asia and Automation
Abundance, Asia and Automation: These are the three factors that the author asserts will change the way we work and operate in the twenty-first century. These forces will be fundamental in transforming the business landscape and demand a change in the way we run our business – and even our lives.
First of all, let’s take ‘abundance‘. Goods and products of all kinds, thanks to efficient manufacturing processes and economies of scale, will eventually become commoditised. By this, I mean products in the same category will eventually be of roughly the same quality and be sold at the roughly the same price. What then, will differentiate these products in the eyes of the consumer? The answer that Pink offers, is ‘Design’. When all else is equal (i.e. price, quality and functionality), the potential buyer will naturally opt for the more aesthetically pleasing item. After all, why wouldn’t he/she?
When we are talking about design and aesthetics, we are really talking about right-brain skills (something the author calls ‘R-Directed Thinking‘). Thus, in the twenty-first century, whether or not a product survives in the market, will largely depend on the company being able to focus right-brain capital into the product i.e. making product – for want of a better word – prettier. Ugly product will cease to be able to compete in the market – in any market.
Next, let’s look at ‘Asia‘. A computer technician – essentially someone with super left-brain skills (something the author calls ‘L-Directed Thinking’) is paid about USD 700 a month in India. Compare that to his American counterpart who earns USD 7,000 a month. Guess what? Programmimg jobs will all soon be ‘exported’ (outsourced) to low-cost locales in Asia, for example India, the Philippines and Indonesia.
What will be left will be jobs that require the ability to synthesise; being able to piece together the jobs that had been outsourced, and weave them into a coherent and meaningful whole. And guess what? This ability to synthesise is essentially the product of R-Directed Thinking (right-brain stuff).
And hardcore programming jobs aren’t the only jobs that are at stake. Financial powerhouses in developed and developing countries have also begun farming out number-crunching work to the ‘cheaper’ MBAs of these low-cost locales. Similarly, routine legal research and even auditing jobs are finding their way into India. It makes sense to do it this way – it’s cheaper!
Finally, there’s ‘automation‘. As long as any business rule (or any analytical rule for that matter) can be translated into code, a computer will be able to do it faster, better, and more accurately than any human being. The ability to analyse – an L-Directed Thinking skill (left-brain stuff) – will cease to be as prized as it is now because these tasks can now be easily undertaken by machines. There are even machines today that can churn-out top-notch medical diagnoses, of all things.
So, what will be left? Pink asserts that in the age where automated analysis has become a reality, our ability to empathise will be even more crucial than ever. Empathy will be the core skill required in everyone from business managers, to healthcare professionals and onto even lawyers. This will be the differentiator that will keep these professionals viable and relevant. And guess what? Empathy is an R-Directed Thinking skill (right-brain stuff).
How now, Brown Cow?
According to Pink, the time has come for us to put a premium on what previously was seen as arty-farty, touchy-feely skills – skills that the right-brain excels at – and put them to work to our advantage. It is inescapable: Simple economics mandates it.
In line with this, Pink has identified 6 senses (skills, if you like) that we need to develop if we are to avoid the twenty-first century jumping out of a corner and biting us in the ass. These senses (skills) he calls Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning. To find out what they are, go read his book (Hint: They are all right-brain stuff). He tries to help you develop these senses by suggesting exercises and activities at the end of each chapter. I have found this section of the book called Portfolio to be invaluable.
Significance to Ahmads, Ah Bengs and Aruls in Malaysia
It all depends on how you expect Malaysia to be in the next few short years. If you see Malaysia as a developed country, outsourcing left brain stuff to places like India; a place where products are commoditised and the only differentiator will be design; and that machines (or cheaper left-brainers in India) are taking on the analytical work, I would suggest you read Pink’s book and develop your right-brain skills like your life depended on it.
On the other hand, if you see Malaysia as the destination of left-brain work farmed-out by developed countries; a place where the market does not place too much empahsis on design; and where our computers will not be powerful enough to do analytical duties, you can sit back, enjoy your ‘teh tarik’ and continue to rely only on just your left-brain.
As for me, I’m off to learn to draw and sketch. Hey, that’s a right-brain skill, right?
Title: A Whole New Mind (Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future)
Author: Daniel H. Pink
Publisher: Penguin Group
Price: MYR 55.00