A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

A Whole New Mind I can see it now – mathematicians, accountants, engineers and doctors all sitting around at lunch time in their new careers as petrol pump attendants and hamburger flippers while the artists, designers and outrageously dressed run the corporate world.

Well, perhaps that’s not quite what Daniel Pink was getting at with this book.  In fact the first part of the title does say what he’s getting at and the second part, well that’s the section of the title that makes you buy it.

The book itself is also in two parts – the current problematic situation entitled ‘The Conceptual Age’ and the solution called ‘The Six Senses’.

The current problematic situation…

… is down to three things: abundance, Asia & automation.

Abundance: in the western world we are short of very few things.  In fact for the most part we have an opulent abundance of ‘things’ whether it’s cars, computer mice, orange juice or toilet brushes – the range and choice of options is often staggering.  There is no doubt that we can do mass production.

And in a world of abundance, where you can get a thousand different chairs that all function perfectly well holding you off the floor, a great way to compete, is through design.  Imagine a designer toilet brush!  Oh yes, absolutely – why else would you pay £22 for a 10 pence cents of plastic?

Asia: in countries like India and China, there are millions of people with access to education and skills that match that of the west.  If you pair that with a lower cost of living you can see why outsourcing and off shoring to Asia is a growing trend.  If the skills exist and they are cheaper to obtain, then why not?  OK, I’ve simplified it somewhat but that’s the essence of the Asia part of the argument.

Automation: finally, computers are not sitting on their Loral's, or their chips.  They just keep getting faster and software gets more sophisticated – if your job could be done by a computer, watch out… you may have noticed that they’re happy to work 24 hours a day for very little pay… your job could be automated.

Daniel’s summary about whether your role is safe is in the form of three questions:

  1. Can someone overseas do it more cheaply?
  2. Can a computer do it faster?
  3. Are you offering something that satisfies the non-material desires of an abundant age?

Before tackling the solution consider this.

We’ve come from the the industrial age of factories and efficiency where the individuals were characterised by their physical strength & personal fortitude into the knowledge worker age.  Where we have achieved our current state through our proficiency in L-directed thinking – that is left brain directed thinking.  And now, we’re entering the conceptual age where the individual starts are creators and empathizers with a mastery of R-directed (right brain) thinking able recognise patterns and  create meaning for our fellow humans.

So, what are the aptitudes of this conceptual age?

The Solution…

… is down to six high concept (rather than low level detail), high touch (close to human) senses, where we all need proficiency:

  1. Design – not just function
  2. Story – not just logical argument
  3. Symphony – not just focus.  The ability to see the bigger picture and put disparate things together to form new solutions and products.
  4. Empathy – not just logic
  5. Play – not just seriousness
  6. Meaning – not just material accumulation

Each of these areas has it’s own chapter which includes a handy and extensive ‘how do I improve my ability’ section.  For example, for symphony one of Daniel’s suggestions is to learn to draw - and he recommends a book and course by Betty Edwards called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (I’ve already ordered my copy).  And under meaning one of the suggestions is to read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” (which is an absolute must-read; I delayed reading it for a few years thinking it would be too morbid – the context is Frankl’s experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp – I wish I hadn’t delayed).

On one or two occasions I thought that Daniel had included too many examples (if I’d been reading the book, rather than listening to the audio I would probably have skipped a few pages) – but even if you don’t read all of the detail in every section, I have no hesitation in highly recommending it – particularly, if like me, you’ve trained yourself well in l-directed thinking!

Format: Book 248 pages, Audio 6hrs 15mins and DVD 55 mins
Author: Daniel H. Pink


Inevitable Illusions - How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds

InevitableIllusions We're all familiar with optical illusions - where we think we see something that is in fact an illusion. The problem is that we create the three-dimensional world in our head based on the input of our senses and the rules that do that translation, and normally serve us so well, can be tricked.

It turns out that the rules used by other parts of our brain can be similarly tricked - giving rise to the term cognitive illusions.  Illusions that are independent of sex, race or IQ.  Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini is a cognitive scientist (actually a principle research associate for the centre for cognitive science at MIT and the director of the dept of Cognitive Science at the Institute of San Raffaele in Milan, so I guess he knows what he's talking about!) and his book Inevitable Illusions - How mistakes of reason rule our minds is intended as a layman's guide to these cognitive illusions.

Massimo describes the process as mental tunnels - the grooves that our brain just can't help getting themselves into.  For example the way we process probabilities, even simple ones, is open to all sorts of mental tunnels.  The simplest probably tunnel described is illustrated thus:

"I have just tossed a coin 7 times, and I ask you, who have not seen the result, to guess which of the three sequences below represents the sequence of results:


Go on, which one would you choose?  Having repeated this experiment many times we're assured that bets are placed in the order: 2, 1, 3.  The preference for 2 is very strong... and is an example of the most common cognitive illusion - mistaking typical for the most probable.  In fact, probability theory tells us that in seven tosses of a con, the probabilities are totally even and so ANY of the three are the right choice.

The result is that we find ourselves committing what Massimo describes, somewhat playfully as the seven deadly sins:

  1. Overconfidence - in our illusion lead thinking.
  2. Illusory correlations (magical thinking) - we reach results thinking they are based on logic when they're simply not.
  3. Predictability in hindsight - once we have the answer or facts we think we could have perfectly predict the outcome (this is a big one for historians).
  4. Anchoring - the first thing we notice incorrectly informs the conclusion of our thinking - the easy example here is: given 2 seconds tell me the result of multiplying the numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 together?; your answer will typically be much lower than if you were asked: in 2 seconds multiply the numbers 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 together.
  5. Ease of representation- we are likely to report the things we can easily imagine or remember as being more frequent.
  6. Probability blindness - our intuitive ability to calculate probabilities is totally floored.
  7. Reconstruction under suitable scripts - a ridiculous end situation can look much more plausible if you take someone through a multi-step script of how 'a' could lead to 'b', which could lead to 'c', to 'd' and 'e' which would give you the end state. When the individual steps are unlikely, the overall result is so completely implausible as to be ridiculous - I loved his example of Othello - where Iago sets out to make Othello believe his beloved wife, Desdemona is unfaithful to him, by making up a plausible but deceptive scenario involving Desdemona's handkerchief; which ultimately leads to Othello killing her!  Massimo likes to call number 7 'the Othello effect'

Although I enjoyed the book, I sometimes found it a little awkward - Massimo took prolonged paragraphs to explain some simple concepts and on other occasions skipped over something that I didn't quite get.  So, overall I found it a little long winded but it certainly reveals some really interesting insights in to the way we think!

Format: Book, 209 pages
Author: Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Ph.D.


Don't tell your children that they're smart!

imageA few months back I was listening to a copy of Scientific American Mind and was fascinated by an article entitled - "The Secret to Raising Smart Kids" which touted its credibility with "more than 30 years of research has revealed the key to success for your kids - in school and in life."

The secret was totally counter to the approach I was actually taking with my five year old daughter.  I understood that I should be building confidence by re-enforcing the fact that she was smart, clever and generally a genius.  Well, the 30 years of research in the article was very clear that my approach could lead to an adolescent and adult that would withdraw from difficult tasks - essentially leading to the opposite of my intention.

It turns out, that praising your child for their hard work, for sticking at it, for being persistent and getting there in the end is the way to create smart children - or much more importantly, children that get things done, that archive and that win.

In fact, it makes perfect sense.  The people that succeed are the ones who can think for themselves and get things done!  So, there you go, praise your children for their hard work, not for being brilliant.

Article: The Secret to Raising Smart Kids
Journal: Scientific American Mind
Title: Bored?
1st June 2007