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Creativity Isn’t Secondary: A Whole New Mind

Posted on February 13, 2006 by Kat.

Okay, I admit it.  I read this book with no small amount of glee.

In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink’s operating theory is that we are coming upon a new business and economic revolution, and the business world is moving from the Information Age (based upon the “knowledge worker” whose primary skill set is logical, analytical, and data-oriented) to a Conceptual Age – an age of designers, empathizers, of people skilled in building relationships among people and synthesizing details and concepts into a new and original whole.

If this sounds familiar, it should.  We at BeTuitive have been saying this since our inception.  And we creative types have been saying it for longer than that.

This isn’t to say that the traditional left-brain-oriented skills have become useless and obsolete.  They’re still necessary – they’re just no longer enough.  Drilling down to the most pertinent data points no longer sets anyone apart; anyone and everyone offers the same thing for a comparable price.  In order to differentiate yourself, you need to pull those data points together, be able to see and articulate the big picture and use those data points creatively to develop something new.

So while much of the business world still tends to see the right-brain-oriented creative and “soft” skills as occasionally needed but largely secondary, we are progressing to a point where it just ain’t so anymore.  Pink outlines three primary reasons for this:

  1. Abundance.  Go to your average mall, or turn on the TV, or open a magazine, and you will see thousands upon thousands of products and services all clamoring for your attention.  In the developed world, our basic needs for survival are provided for and then some.  So now your average human is going to be looking for what’s next, what’s more, and giving much more significance to less tangible, less utilitarian things.
  2. Asia.  The spectre of American high tech workers: outsourcing.  In a global economy, the cost of communicating with the other side of the world is approaching zero.  And simple, routine tasks, such as the code-crunching side of programming, can be sent to engineers in India and elsewhere, where your staff is quite pleased to command a salary one-fifth of that of their American counterparts.
  3. Automation.  Did you know that there is now software that writes software?  Software that can make basic medical diagnoses based on decision trees?  Anything that can be done by following a set of logical rules, can be done by a computer faster than by a human.

These three factors are not going away anytime soon.  As a result, adapting to the new conditions is vital for marketplace survival: We need to supplement our high-tech skills with skills that are “high concept” (the ability to detect patterns and opportunities, to see the big picture, to create beauty, to combine heretofore unrelated ideas into a fresh innovation) and “high touch” (empathy for others, an understanding of human relationships, finding joy and bringing it to others, and the ability to seek out purpose and meaning).  Pink offers an outline of six skills or “senses” which will become necessary to develop and incorporate into our skill sets.  It is not as difficult as it sounds to you left-brainers.  These attributes are fundamental human characteristics; our cave-dwelling ancestors may not have done a lot of data analysis, but they frequently sat around telling stories around the fire.  These skills have only atrophied from lack of use, not ceased to exist altogether.

The “six senses:”

  1. Design.  Good, functional, utilitarian products are everywhere.  You can no longer differentiate yourself based on quality or price – you need to make your product appealing.
  2. Story.  We no longer need an expert to get our hands on facts anymore.  With Google and ten minutes anyone can find more facts than they can use.  What people need now is someone to demonstrate how facts are related, to put them in context and convey them with impact.
  3. Symphony.  Specialization and a good grasp of the details is now being outsourced or automated.  Need a code cruncher?  Send it to Asia.  But what we still need, perhaps even more than before, is someone to pull those details together and conceive of a new piece of software, how it might work, what it might do, and more importantly how it would make life better for those who use it.
  4. Empathy.  Analytical tools are now commonplace and prolific.  But analysis is useless if you don’t understand your client’s problem.  A computer can analyze data, follow decision trees, and spit out reams of reports, and still not give someone the answers needed to solve the problem. A human, on the other hand, can grasp which problems are urgently important, can develop interpersonal relationships – can become a trusted resource.
  5. Play.  Happy humans are productive humans.  Would you rather be managed by someone who jokes and laughs on occasion, or someone who’s invariably dour?  Video games have been shown to boost problem-solving ability.  Skillfully applied humor can increase morale, decrease hostility, communicate difficult messages, and make for more effective leadership – because people want to follow you.
  6. Meaning.  We now live in a world where we have, and have access to, lots and lots and lots of stuff.  Our material needs are met, so we move on to big screen TVs.  But funnily enough, that TV hasn’t made us significantly happier.  So people are seeking out more purpose, more fulfillment, simply more.  Today the marketplace, and the workplace, is less about things and functionality, and more about improving quality of life.

Pink offers loads of ideas, examples, exercises, books to read, museums to see – and more – to illustrate this marketplace revolution, and assist you left-brainers in adapting to it.  They’re good practice (and good play!) for right-brainers, too.  (Given all of this, I found it darkly amusing that the design of the book jacket is so uninspired.  How did that slip by? )

I shall try to contain my glee, and my urge to say “I told you so!” but it is nice to be corroborated.  Creativity is not “just” a secondary, less-important skill – it’s as vital to the complete whole as logic.  We right-brainers are quite pleased to see the rest of the world finally beginning to recognize that.

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February 13, 2006 in award winning magazine, award winning newsletter, Blog Outsourcing, blog publish, build credibility, Building Customer Community, Business editorial, Business newsletter, Business relationships, company blog, corporate magazine, Corporate newsletter, Corporate publications, create a newsletter | Permalink


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Tracked on Feb 13, 2006 5:23:28 PM


This is all true and it gets worse – and better. In my experience acting on hiring trends and company culture, I have seen first hand the desperate hire of a “technical skill” only for the relationship to end because of a disconnect in the more important “soft skills”. Almost everybody makes this mistake. Few of us are fixing this; that is our opportunity.

It is easy to find a wish list of past technical skills in every discipline, but what are you going to bring to the future leadership as well as the internal and external customer experience? It gets very interesting when baby-boomers leave and take their expertise with them. The population left in the workforce is not prepared to take over and not willing to compete worldly on cost of their “service”. The next generation is getting less training at their company then their parents did which brings me to the good news.

As people learn that companies out there are not going to take care of them (retirement, training, opportunity), people will learn to take this on for themselves. Taking control of your career in the form of training will improve as individuals learn how to compete and build appropriate teams. Who cares about the company sponsored cookie cutter training program. I have noticed my clients take that training and say, So What, now how am I going to separate myself and compete/collaborate? They go out on their own and get better. Like mechanics do so well – their employers don’t train. The mechanic who keeps his job stays ahead of the curve on his own and adds value to the customer– keeping his job and getting a raise and or promotion. Accountants (everybody) are going to have to do this to learn how to compete. They must add value through creative and productive customer service. The new professional will have a Strategic Career Plan taking charge and maintaining a competitive advantage over future challenge – not just those of today because they are aware.

Posted by: David Sandusky | Feb 13, 2006 5:45:30 PM

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