The cerebral key

Ah, the Information Age. For more than 50 years, it has proven that an economy can be based on data manipulation and storage, and has created a world where knowledge workers outnumber factory drones. Electronic innovations have bridged global barriers and made previously scarce data available to the masses. But today one nagging question remains: where do we go from here?

According to Daniel Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind,” we allow the right hemisphere of our brains to take hold. “It’s no longer sufficient to create a product, service, experience or lifestyle that’s merely functional. Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that’s also beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging.”

The key to accomplishing this, Pink says, lies in honing skills that are controlled by the right brain – the ability to multitask, perceive metaphors, synthesize situations and interpret emotional expression. While eras up to and including the Information Age stressed left-brained thinking (linear, sequential, textual and analytic), the forthcoming “Conceptual Age” refocuses society’s priorities to yield success to individuals who appeal to and think from their intuitive side.

To Pink, evidence of this phenomenon is clear and can be summarized in a catchy alliteration:

Abundance

From online shopping to corporate superstores, successful products transcend utility. They are creative, beautiful and connect the best attributes of unrelated goods. While the left-brained thinker may respond to consumer demand by simply getting the job done, the right-brained thinker takes into account the consumer’s entire experience, thus demanding attention in an option-filled, American marketplace.

Asia

For millions of Americans whose white-collar technology positions were shipped overseas, outsourcing has been viewed as a social epidemic. However Pink explains that this is no more than an economic cycle similar to mass production outsourcing in the mid-20th century. “Just as those factory workers had to learn how to bend pixels instead of steel, many of today’s knowledge workers will likewise have to command a new set of aptitudes.” Because foreign countries can provide low-level knowledge workers at increasingly rapid and inexpensive rates, American professionals must respond with the innovation and big-picture skills necessary to continue initiating economic trends.

Automation

There’s no contest. Computers can perform left-brained tasks involving memory, calculation and rule-based logic millions of times quicker than the human mind. As a result, computers may both phase out and “change the emphasis” of certain jobs. Today many people go online for basic medical diagnoses and legal advice, because decision-tree software performs these services at a lower cost. In the battle of human vs. machine, professionals will have to focus on abilities that computers do not have – empathy, creative thinking and perceiving significance over time.

While Pink calls a number of tasks hemisphere-oriented, he takes a firm stance that everyone is capable of both left and right-brained thinking. He also takes issue with society’s bias towards the left side, particularly with aptitude tests such as the SAT. “(Right-brained) muscles have atrophied and we need to work them back into shape,” he said, and the latter portion of his book gives advice on how to sharpen the six right-brained skills necessary to succeed in the Conceptual Age.

Pink, a journalist and former White House speechwriter, provides a lively yet practical look at recent market trends and presents a powerful (yet perhaps premature) buzzword to introduce the coming age. His discussion of brain processes is bound to provoke both visible “gee-wiz” moments and groundbreaking ideas that will reroute your own current thinking.

Daniel Pink will be at the Bethesda Barnes and Noble (4801 Bethesda Ave.) April 23 as part of the Bethesda Literary Festival.

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