Book Review by Raymond M. Wong
Pink, Daniel. A Whole New Mind. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005. Print.
Daniel Pink says you better cultivate the right hemisphere of your brain, the artistic/creative side responsible for seeing the big picture, spontaneity, emotive expression, abstraction, and context. He gives three reasons why this area of the mind is essential in the modern world: abundance, Asia, and automation. By abundance, he means that many societies have more material wealth than they know what to do with. He gives the example of a designer toilet brush to illustrate the excesses to which America has sunk in its pursuit of beauty, perfection, and extravagance. Asia is a source of plentiful, cheap labor that will make many U.S. jobs obsolete. And automation in the way of technology, cell phones, and ultra-efficient, task-oriented computers is able to out-perform and out-think many human beings.
Is the flesh-and-blood worker doomed to be trampled by the likes of a super computer such as “Deep Blue,” a machine capable of beating the best chess player on the planet, Garry Kasparov, in 1997? Pink provides an answer: “Any job that depends on routines—that can be reduced to a set of rules, or broken down into a set of repeatable steps—is at risk. If a $500-a-month Indian chartered accountant doesn’t swipe your comfortable accounting job, Turbo Tax will” (44).
The solution? Pink believes people have to get good at what machines can’t do. In a society of mass-production, people don’t need more things; they want to find a sense of purpose, meaning, and self-actualization. In a world where laborers in China and India are willing to work for a pittance compared to American wages, domestic workers have to reach a higher-level of functioning—design and concept—that can’t be emulated. In an age where computers, machines, and gadgets can play chess, do bookkeeping, and help diagnose medical maladies, people have to find a niche in which they can perform a function that is needed, valued, and can’t be replicated by a machine.
What does Pink suggest we get good at? Six senses: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Design is a blending of utility and aesthetic to create significance. Pink quotes design expert, John Heskett, “[D]esign, stripped to its essence, can be defined as the human nature to shape and make our environment in ways without precedent in nature, to serve our needs and give meaning to our lives” (69).
An example of the consequences of poor design: the butterfly ballot used in Palm Beach County, Florida in the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections confused thousands of voters and was responsible for the outcome of George W. Bush’s razor-thin margin of victory in Florida that ultimately won him the presidency over Al Gore. Design, even a bad one, can change the world.
Our minds are wired to process and remember stories. This is why a story is so much more effective than a fact when it comes to making an impact on an audience. Pink showcases the words of cognitive scientist, Mark Turner, to make his case for the importance of story: “Narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought . . . Most of our experiences, our knowledge and our thinking is organized as stories” (101).
Symphony is the ability to associate, create, put things together, see relationships and patterns, synthesize, look at the bigger picture, fashion something unique and magical from the small or mundane, in short, to craft a musical masterpiece from mingling simple notes. It is what we term synergy and is the father of invention.
Empathy is to immerse one’s very being in another’s experience. It is the attribute by which a novelist hears the voice of an imaginary character or the memoirist captures the dialog of a loved one, family member, or even a bitter rival. Empathy allows a therapist to pinpoint the source of a client’s trauma. A good teacher can use empathy to attune to a student’s distress. Empathy can foster forgiveness and connect people from divergent backgrounds, cultures, or languages—it makes us human. The absence of empathy can manifest in heinous crime and unspeakable atrocity—the lack of empathy can make us inhumane.
Play is the joy that results from laughter and the fun of indulging in video games. Pink sees laughter as good medicine and the advent of our gaming culture not as the downfall of civilization but an opportunity to create and innovate. “For a generation of people, games have become a tool for solving problems as well as a vehicle for self-expression and self-exploration” (192). Pink quotes James Paul Gee, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, about the benefits of playing video games: “[Video games] operate with—that is, they build into their designs and encourage—good principles of learning, principles that are better than those in many of our skill-and-drill, back-to-basics, test-them-until-they-drop schools” (193).
A sense of hope and meaning is what kept Viktor Frankl alive in an Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. While enduring torturous labor and starvation at the hands of unrelenting Nazis, Frankl clung to the vision of publishing a book manuscript he had written. The quest for meaning in the midst of horrific suffering is what led Frankl to pen his seminal work, Man’s Search for Meaning. And it is this quest that drives people to seek out faith and spirituality, to embrace the courage of Gandhi, the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., the compassion of Mother Teresa, and the wisdom of the Dalai Lama.
Daniel Pink makes a compelling argument that mastering these six senses will open the door to our survival in what he calls the evolution of work from the agriculture age to the industrial age to the information age to the conceptual age.