Review: A Whole New Mind

Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind makes many excellent points. Unfortunately, it suffers from an awkward and unconvincing metaphorical framework.

Chapter 1: Right Brain Rising

Pink starts out explaining about the brain’s left and right hemispheres, and how each side is responsible for different cognitive activities – the left hemisphere tends to be responsible for sequential logic, analysis, and language; the right hemisphere for holistic reasoning, pattern recognition, emotions and body language. So far, so good. Pink is careful to point out, over and over again, that the terms “left-brained” and “right-brained” are misnomers; that you need both hemispheres to be completely functional, and that they certainly don’t work independently of each other. He emphasizes (again and again) that “left-brained” and “right-brained” are “powerful metaphor[s] for how individuals and organizations navigate their lives.” That’s all well and good, but in the rest of the book the “left-brained” functions or “L-Directed thinking” end up left in the dust. It says right on the cover “Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” — a claim made nowhere in the book. That just screams “GIMMICK!” to me. Will people with “whole minds” rule the future, or people who are right-brained? If the title can’t get it’s story straight, I don’t have much faith in the entire book.

Chapter 2: Abundance, Asia, and Automation

I suppose alliteration is an R-Directed thing. This chapter talks about the many choices and options that American consumers are faced with, overseas outsourcing, and technology, and how these three things have either eliminated a lot of jobs and significantly raised the bar on others. The “abundance” and “automation” sections are quite good, but he drops the ball on Asia. He doesn’t discuss global economics at all, and one almost gets the sense that India is some sort of economic enemy to battle against. I don’t think he meant it that way, but it was irritating. Pink doesn’t address why what he thinks of as R-Directed jobs are going to be safe against India while L-Directed jobs are threatened. I heard a story on NPR not long ago about how localized, creative advertising campaigns are starting to be outsourced — complete with local culture training. Unless global inequities are addressed, jobs are going to continue to trickle downward to the cheapest labor.

Chapter 3: High Concept, High Touch

 This chapter talks about the demand for “knowledge workers” diminishing and the demand for “creators and empathizers” growing, and about how MFA programs are harder to get into than MBA programs. I think this is more reflective of a glut of MBA programs and applicants than anything else — something called supply and demand, perhaps, or is that too L-Directed?

Part Two

Part Two discusses what Pink calls “The Six Senses” which … whatever. They’re more “sensibilities” than “senses,” but I’ll go along with the clumsy neuroscience metaphor. Getting past that, Pink actually makes a great case for “design,” “story,” “symphony,” “empathy,” and “play” that I wish Slightly Evil, LLP would be receptive to. (It won’t.) Each chapter comes with a “Portfolio” section that includes lots of resources and exercises for improving your skills in each area. None of these “senses” seem to be things that people in India can’t handle, though.

Chapter Nine, the final “sense,” is meaning. As an atheist and an empiricist, I consider “meaning” exceptionally important to my life since I believe we must create it for ourselves, and not rely on some One else to bestow it upon us. Pink’s “meaning” seems to be a vague, feel-good mix between “happiness” and “spirituality” and dizziness. It was a bad way to end a book that had just started to pick up a little.

Overall…

First of all, this book is aimed exclusively at middle-class white collar workers. It is certainly not a comprehensive look at the “new” American economy.

Secondly, I didn’t learn anything new from this book. Pink relies heavily on anecdotes and less on L-Directed… facts. The book doesn’t say anything that my father didn’t tell me when he sat down with me and gave me the “what you should be when you grow up” speech. He told me that “The people who make the most money are not the people who know how to do stuff. They are the ones who know how to tell those people what to do.” (I was ten, he had to dumb it down a little.) I think that’s how I ended up in this L/R crossover career called information design.

In summation, what Pink calls having “a whole mind” is what I learned was called “being intelligent.” And I really wish that Steven Johnson had written this book instead.

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