Sunday, January 23, 2011

A whole New Mind:Book Review

A Whole New Mind – Book Review
Successful people were great at what they do simply because they were given a head start, an opportunity to clock up massive hours of practice and training ahead of everyone else, not because they were born great.” Malcolm Gladwell, Author of Outliers

About the Author: Daniel H. Pink is the author of four provocative books about the changing world of work — including the New York Times bestsellers, A Whole New Mind and Drive, which together have been translated into 29 languages. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and their three children.
His articles on business and technology appear in many publications, including the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Wired, where he is a contributing editor. He also writes a monthly business column for the U.K. newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph.  Dan has provided analysis of business trends on CNN, CNBC, ABC, NPR, and other networks in the U.S. and abroad. And he lectures to corporations, associations, and universities around the world on economic transformation and the new workplace.
A free agent himself, Dan held his last real job in the White House, where he served from 1995 to 1997 as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore. He also worked as an aide to U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich and in other positions in politics and government.
He received a BA from Northwestern University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and a JD from Yale Law School. To his lasting joy, he has never practiced law.
About the book: When the book was offered to me, I had no clue why was it given to me. Reading this book gave me the startling realization that “right” minded people, once seen as the social outcast, will eventually be powering the next wave of economic transformation (In fact, today they are as I am a little late into reading this book).
I have always been in awe of people who have shown a creative knack, especially those who have gone ahead and build a career around it. As I was reading this book, a fellow classmate of mine moved out of his job and started something on his own as he has been creative. I am in awe of them because I’ve found them to be true to them-selves, they have the tenacity to stand firm on their interest and pursue a rewarding career doing what they enjoy most. I after reading this book, attribute this to their “right way of thinking” as I realize that it must be that they enjoy doing what they do because otherwise, they would have succumbed to the left minded societal pressures of our society.
To those who are like me, a typical “left” brainard MBA; this book is definitely a good source of information for ways to improve “right” brain thinking. Today, I do strongly believe that with diligent practice, every ability can be attained and improved over time.
A Whole New Minds message is very simplistic compared to more recent design books. The resources, however, such as blogs, books, and exercises, should be very useful and interesting for everyone interested in learning more about improving these skills.
In this book, the author argues that the world has reached a point where traditional left-brain thinking, which includes analytical, logic based methods, is now less important than right-brain thinking, which includes meaning, empathy, and creativity.  The three main causes for this, according to the author, are abundance, Asia, and automation. The abundance of goods available today is making people seek more meaning in their lives and purchases, rather than accumulating more.  Similarly, the ability to outsource work to Asia or have it replaced by faster automation and software makes many traditional left-brain skills, like programming, engineering, and financial analysis, less meaningful today than in the 20th century.
The author also argues that 5 personal attributes will make workers in the 21st century more successful: Design, Empathy, Story, Play, and Meaning. For each, the book outlines its importance in today’s society and provides resources on how to improve them in your personal life or organization
1.    Design: This means the ability to imbue a product or process with aesthetic or emotional qualities that engage the user and add value over competitor produces or services and is characterized by mainly in terms of going beyond the "merely functional" (p. 65) to "pleasure, meaning, and beauty" (p. 86). (extracted from the book)
2.    Story: This means the ability to weave a narrative that ties together events, people, ideas, and places into an engaging whole. Stories can make legal, medical, scientific, or historic facts fit together in a way that adds significance and context. Stories have proven to be a means for transmitting knowledge for thousands of years and the book presents the story as a central to human thought (p. 99). (extracted from the book)
3.     Empathy: This means the ability to understand a fellow human being's perspective, struggles, and experience. The author makes much of facial recognition and ties empathetic thinking to feminine qualities (p. 168). (extracted from the book)
4.    Play: This means the ability to engage in humor and games. The author emphasizes laughter clubs (p. 194) and touches on digital games as a powerful economic product (p. 183). (extracted from the book)
5.    Meaning: This means the ability to go beyond meeting material wants and desires toward meeting the need for fulfillment, including a strong sense of life purpose or spiritual meaning. (extracted from the book)

The author in the book also brings in the concept of Symphony which is the ability to synthesize disparate pieces from multi-disciplinary perspectives into a significant and accurate whole. The central idea here is that thinking that can quiet sequential, logical, and reductive tendencies and instead focus on relationships, metaphor, and "big picture thinking" can succeed.
In order to be successful in the conceptual age, we will have to not only excel at left-brain skills (analysis, linear thinking), but also at right-brain skills (synthesis, simultaneous thinking). This combination of complementary skills is described as a whole new mind.
A whole new mind allowed me to take a step back. All these years, I’ve been studying engineering. As I went into the next level of education to study business, as I sit back and realize that without being aware of it, I was forcing myself into a left-directed mindset. After all, when I was a teenager, I wanted to study the art of cooking. I went for sciences and mathematics I couldn’t envision what kind of job I would have access to if I studied art.
According to the book, the challenge for me now, is to finally muscle up my right brain and get it back in shape.
I would also like to take a chance to mention that this book is also full of exercises, online references and ideas that the author suggests to exercise the six senses needed to achieve success in the Conceptual Age. For those for whom all this “right brain thing” stills sounds a little bit weird( for instance, it sounded wierd to me, before I was introduced to this book) I would definitely recommend this book as a good starting point.
To conclude, I believe, in today’s world, it’s important to maintain balance but in particular, to foster traditional “right-brain” thinking.