Book Review: A Whole New Mind


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

ISBN: 1-57322-308-5

Price: MYR 55.00


9 thoughts on “Book Review: A Whole New Mind

  1. EQ trumps IQ. Right brain trumps left brain. Very interesting postulation. Great review, MB.

    de minimis

    Thanks. I didn’t think anyone would read this particularly dry entry of mine; a departure from my usual subject matter of assorted silly stuff

  2. You bet Mat!Real departure from your very entertaining left brain!That left brain that’s so therapeutic and entertaining for all of us!I am so angry with your right brain today!Kacau betul!!


    Actually, ma’am, it is our right-brain that generates the creative and entertaining bit. Our left-brain mostly does the boring analytical, logical stuff.

    So, if you’ve enjoyed my entries, I have my right brain to thank.

    More right-brain stuff coming soon

  3. this time, i read only the first paragraph and the last paragraph, both sides of brain have given up working a long time ago.

    haffa good weekend!


    Guess what? Sometimes I do that, too – read only the first and the last paragraphs, I mean.

    Funnily enough, I too have been accused of being brain-dead a long time ago. Nowadays, I tend to do a good job of pretending that I’m not.

  4. What’s this, a book?

    I never finished one in my life 🙂


    Yes! This is a book – and it’s even got pictures in it. This of course explains why I was able to read it in the first place 🙂

  5. MB,

    If this book is required in my Master, then I’ll read it religiously. If not, I’ll just browse through the pics…so I won’t fall asleep…:-)


    I doubt if the book will be required reading for your Masters programme.

    Caution: The pictures are kinda plain… you mght still fall asleep.

  6. Great article. The part ‘hinting’ at the correlation between the thinking mind and the status of a country is indeed refreshing. Could it be that our country is still a ‘developing’ one instead of developed because we’re all still not using our right brain? Or is it because most of us still do not think critically with our left brain?

    Lights in the Distance

    No, I don’t think right-brain thinking is a function (or hallmark) of a developed country. Think about it: It was their dependence on, and exploitation of left-brain skills that that took them to ‘developed’ nation status in the first place. Thus, these countries will culturally value the left- rather than right-brain. In fact, the journey to becoming a developed nation may have even impeded the development right-brain skills i.e. when, in the name of progress, right-brain skill are forced to take a backseat in relation to skills like analysis, logic and reasoning (left-brain stuff)

    My take: Right-brain skills do not take you to ‘developed’ nation status. But once you become a developed nation, you’d better have a extensive arsenal of right-brain skills.

  7. Mat, thanks for putting your thoughts there. Never did think of it that way. Maybe it’s because my brain is not as developed as yours. Must read more from now on, haha.

    But what’s your take on our country becoming developed in the near future if the people still do not think critically and just follow the status quo?

    Lights in the Distance

    Again, my take on this: I’m not too worried about the 30-something and 40-something generation – they are quite adept at thinking critically (most of them, anyway). Just look at the SOPO- and journo-blogs that’s sprouting from all over the place. Furthermore, this generation is the vanguard when it comes to socio-political issues and the like.

    However, I do worry about the generation that is still now in school (or university). Yes, they do get good grades and I am certain that they are capable of tremendous mental gymnastics i.e. book learning. But I suspect that they sadly lack perspective and will be lost in a contextual environment. In other words, their left-brains are being developed to the fullest extent but right-brain skills are lagging behind.

  8. Thanks again for the insight. You make it very clear then. But is critical thinking a function of the left or right brain? Always thought it was the left. If it were the left, does it not mean that our younger generation are also not fully utilizing their left skills? Hmm…

    I’m nearing my forties and had observed a few relatives who are graduates of our local universities. They are not at all interested in abstract concepts and ideas. Only in pursuing physical and material things. While that is not a bad thing in itself but what if it’s done in disregard of other things which are more important. Again, what’s important differs for each of us. But what if that ‘pursuing’ becomes their main purpose in life and they think it’s what life is all about?

    Our education system places too much emphasis on rote-learning where most of everyone could proclaim “i can do that” but few would question “should i do that?”. Maybe i’m rambling here la. Haiyah…

    But i shall not dwell too much on this and maybe just spend my time listening to music.

    Light in the Distance

    Critical thinking – like analysis, logic and reason – are left-brain skills; our kids are good at these skills. The education system has made sure of this. However, the perceived notion of a lack of critical thinking is actually due to, NOT a lack of left-brain prowess, but is indirectly attributable to a weakness in right-brain skill development.

    Let me explain. While the left-brain is very capable of rigorous analysis, a lack of input from the right-brain, (input like spatial relationship, synthesis, emotion etc) renders the analytical thinking barren and impotent. The brains needs both its hemispheres to be able to function at its optimum.

    Thus, even tho a lot of people are capable of critical thinking, it may not seem like so because they are relying only one side of the brain (i.e. left). There is no (or little) right-brain input to put all that critical thinking into context. Hope this helped.

    I like your ‘I can do that’ / ‘should I do that’ analogy.

  9. Mat, again thanks for enlightening explanation although it probably only touches the surface.

    I shall get the book on my next visit to the bookstore. After gaining more insights perhaps we could discuss this interesting topic again.

    Until then, i will keep reading what you wrote and wish you all the best. Keep up the good writing. Cheers.

    Lights in the Distance

    I, too, look forward to meeting you and to the opportunity of learning from you.

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