Daniel Pink has written a very interesting book about the coming shift from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. He makes an interesting claim that the Information Age is already over and a new way of doing business has begun. The book is mostly about business principles, but it has a lot to say to churches and church leaders (something I’ll tackle in an upcoming post).
The basic thesis of the book is that for the last century or so we have been developing a corporate society that is based on and dominated by what Pink calls “L-Directed Thinking” or a mindset that is predominately associated with the Left Hemisphere of the brain, the side that deals mostly with logic, language, math, structure, and that kind of rationality.
Nevertheless, Pink argues that key forces are working to necessitate a shift in American business from “L-Directed Thinking” to “R-Directed Thinking” or a kind of thinking that involves the creative, playful side of life.
Abundance, Asia, and Automation
The three forces at work in the world today are Abundance, Asia, and Automation.
Abundance refers to the fact that people in America pretty much have everything they need and most people have just about everything they want. Abundance, though, isn’t really about what you posess. It’s about what is available to you. No matter what you might want, here in America, you have an abundance of choices. There isn’t just one mp3 player, there are hundreds. There isn’t just one type of shampoo, there are thousands.
In the midst of all this abundance, consumers are looking for something that stands out. Particularly, consumers are no longer looking to buy a product. They are looking for an experience. From the store they shop in to the color of the product, they are looking for an experience that gives meaning and significance. At the core, people make purchases based on the meaning or significance they perceive when they make the choice. That’s why companies like Target are having such great success with their practice of getting high-level designers and architects (like Michael Graves) to design their toilet brushes!
Though Pink separates the two, Asia and Automation seem to me to be two sides of the same coin. Basically, the point is that through outsourcing jobs to Asia and through the increasing sophistication of computer automation, routine, by-the-numbers kinds of tasks are moving away from America. Manufacturing, computer programming, customer service, and many other kinds of industries are taking jobs away from America and handing them to Asian workers or automated systems.
Therefore, the end result of these three factors is that work in America needs to shift from making products (or computer programs, or in fact, any other kind of deliverable) into making meaning and to do so, Pink argues, requires “a whole new mind” or one that can employ six core “right-brain” skills or, as he calls them, “senses.”
The Six Senses
The most beneficial part of the book comes in part two where Pink addresses the practical skills we need to develop to flourish in this new world of ours. He mentions six skills, calling them “senses” and then, after describing each one, he lists some resources, tools, and examples of how a person can improve their capacity for that particular sense.
These lists alone are perhaps worth the cost of the book, and though I got my copy from the library, I’m considering purchasing it just to have these hard-copy lists at hand. For the time being, though, I’m just writing them down here for myself and anyone else who might be interested to pursue these things further.
Incidentally, the six senses are as follows: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.
One of the more important claims of Pinks book is that the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree is taking over the MBA in terms of significance in our world. He notices that design is becoming the most important aspect of products and stores these days. In fact, you can see the truth of this claim by noticing how successful stores like Target (for selling designer products at low prices), Best Buy (for creatively designing their stores), and Apple (for the outrageous success of their iPod and other well-designed products.
You can also see the impacts of bad design by considering the poorly designed ballots in Florida that caused so much confusion during the Presidential election of 2000.
In order to improve our sense of design, Pink makes the following suggestions:
- Keep a design notebook.
- Think of something that annoys you, and send the manufacturer of that product a well-thought-out solution to the problem.
- Read design magazines:
- Consider Karim Rashid — http://www.karimrashid.com
- Design Something, Your own Nike shoe, your own Vans shoe, or your own handwriting font.
- Go to a Design Museum
- Evaluate objects in your life for the emotions you have associated with them. See Design Continuum.
- Be choosy (select things because they delight you not because they impress others, but never let things be more important than people.) See Animatrix.
The second sense is the sense of story. Good stories instantly connect with people on a heart level and last in both our conscious mind and our subconscious for far longer than pure facts and figures ever will. We think in stories, we live in stories, and we love stories.
Some suggestions for improving our ability to appreciate story and create our own are as follows:
- Write a mini-saga, a very short story of exactly 50 words. Some examples can be found here.
- Preserve someone’s story through StoryCorps.
- Interview someone about his or her life and record the conversation.
- Visit a storytelling festival: National Storytelling Festival, Yukon International Storytelling Festival, Bay Area Storytelling Festival, Australia National Storytelling Confest, Digital Storytelling Festival, Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival, Sharing the Fire, New England Storytelling Conference.
- Subscribe to One Story, a magazine that delivers one good story to your house a little more often than once a month.
- Learn Digital Storytelling — Center for Digital Storytelling, the Fray, City Stories Project, and I Used to Believe.
- Read these books:
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee.
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud.
- The Hero with a Thousand faces by Joseph Campbell (covers the hero motif throughout history). For other Campbell works, see the Joseph Campbell Foundation.
Symphony is the art of seeing things as they really are in relation to the other things around them. Pink’s primary illustration is the groundbreaking work done by Betty Edwards in her book Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain.
Her claim is that we tend to see the world through symbols, and this is especially evident when we attempt to draw anything. Try it yourself, and draw a self-portrait. You’ll quickly see that most people don’t draw their nose and lips and eyes. Instead they draw symbols of their eyes, a symbol for their lips and a symbol for their nose. Her drawing method trains people to see relationships between objects and not to abstract those objects into symbols. Her method is remarkably successful at helping non-drawers become at least capable of drawing a self-portrait. Mr. Pink even shows us the progress he made when he took a seminar based on her techniques.
Basically, the skill of symphony is in seeing the whole as a whole, seeing pieces in relationship to each other, and not seeing the pieces all by themselves. Next time you look at the FedEx logo, try to find the forward facing arrow hiding in the negative space.
Here are suggestions for improving your skill of symphony:
- Listen to great symphonies
- Beethoven’s 9th
- Mozart’s Symphony No. 35
- Mahler’s 4th Symphony in G Major
- Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (with real cannons and church bells)
- Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 in G Major “Surprise”
- Visit a newsstand and grab 10 publications that you would otherwise never read. Skim them and look for connections with your own life.
- Learn how to draw — http://www.drawright.com or http://www.the5line.com
- Keep a Metaphor Log (write down metaphors you encounter throughout your day)
- Create an Inspiration Board: “When you’re working on a project, empty your bulletin board and turn it into an inspiration board. Each time you see something that you find compelling… tack it to the board.”
- Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture
by William Benzon
- Powers of Ten
by Charles and Ray Eames
- Metaphors We Live By
by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
- No Waste by Laboratorio De Creacion Maldeojo is a project of photos of “ingeniously repurposed items from the streets of Cuba.”
- How to See: A Guide to Reading Our Man-made Environment
by George Nelson
- Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture
- Do something you can’t do and experience the beauty of making a mistake
- Look for Negative Spaces (in logos, designs and all around you)
Empathy is basically the skill of being able to stand in another person’s skin and experience the world from their perspective. It is the part of us that wants to yawn when we see another person yawn. It’s the part of us that winces when we watch someone get whacked with a stick on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Empathy is necessary in this new “Conceptual Age” because people are looking for products and services that truly connect with them, and that means businesses must be able to experience life from the perspective of their customers (empathy) in order to provide the products and services those customers are looking for.
To develop the skill of empathy, here are some tools:
- Take an empathy test.
- Test your EQ (empathy quotient) or your SQ (systematizing quotient).
- Test your E-IQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) prepared by Daniel Goleman of Emotional Intelligence
- Spot the Fake Smile to see if you can spot the difference between a fake smile and a real one.
- Mind in the Eyes Test to see if you can identify an emotion from only the eyes.
- Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test which is the best test, but it costs money.
- Study Paul Ekman — http://www.paulekman.com. Pink mentions these Ekman books: Emotions Revealed,
- Play “Whose Life?” a game developed by IDEO which is basically rooting through another person’s stuff to try to figure out what that person is like.
- Take an Acting Class
- Get the Mind Reading CD-ROM training materials.
- Volunteer and serve someone.
Corporate life used to be all about stodgy seriousness, but now playful work environments are becoming not just more prevalent, but also more necessary. What with the increasing demands on work and home life, and the attendant stress, we need playfulness to keep us productive.
Pink claims, however, that play is more than a tool to be used to increase productivity. Instead, play itself is a primary industry. Games of all sorts are a major business, and the Army has turned to using video games as a recruitment tool.
Even more than all that, playfulness, humor, and joyfulness are the cornerstones of a creative life. To develop the skill of play in your own life, Pink recommends these things:
- Join a Laughter Club — http://www.laughteryoga.com
- Play the Cartoon Captions Game. Find a bunch of cartoons from publications like the New Yorker, remove the captions or punch lines, and then come up with some of your own. Preferably, do this with friends.
- Test your humor on the Humor Scale.
- Check out the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling “Invention at Play” exhibit — http://www.inventionatplay.org.
- Learn about video games and play some.
- Play Right-Brain Games or Right Brain Paradise
Viktor Frankl wrote his seminal work, Man’s Search for Meaning
after being released from a Nazi concentration camp where he saw people survive against incredible odds because they had a strong sense of meaning and purpose. Pink addresses the significance of having meaning in our lives, whether by religion or otherwise. More than that, he talks about how we need to look at life from the perspective of a higher meaning and how to do so enriches our lives including extending our actual lifespan.
To help us develop a sense of meaning, purpose and spirituality, he recommends these exercises:
- Write a gratitude letter or go on a gratitude visit or find some other way to develop a habit of gratitude.
- Take the 20-10 test. If you had $20 million in the bank or only 10 more years to live, would you continue doing what you do now?
- Measure your spirit with tests. Spiritual Transcendence Test, or the Index of Core Spiritual Experience.
- Visit a labyrinth (a maze-like pathway for meditation purposes).
- Picture yourself at 90. Imagine yourself as a ninety-year-old you. What has your life been like?
I think there are a lot of great points in here for leaders of any sort, but in my next post, I will try to examine what value this book has for Christian leaders in particular.