Can Right Brained Thinking Change the World?

Published: VOA Washington, D.C.   23 March 2009

Posted By: Daniel Genchi

Best-selling author and business analyst Daniel Pink believes that for the past several decades, western society has placed too high a value on so-called left-brainers: people like accountants, lawyers and economists who use the linear, logical functions that scientists have determined are controlled by the brain’s left hemisphere.

In his recent book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, Pink says society is learning to better appreciate the non-linear, creative work of right-brain thinkers such as artists, musicians, designers and storytellers. He argues that the left-brain abilities that used to matter the most simply aren’t working in today’s world.

“These left-brain abilities – the logical, linear, spreadsheet abilities – still matter, but they matter less, and it’s now the right-brain abilities: artistry, empathy, inventiveness, big-picture thinking. Those are now the abilities that matter most,” he says.

One of the reasons left-brain professionals are becoming vulnerable, says Pink, is that they easily can be replaced. Consequently, more and more professions like accounting, law and computer programming are being exported to cheaper workers overseas or are being performed by computers.

“So you now see tax preparation software doing the work of accountants. You see legal Web sites doing the work of certain kinds of lawyers,” Pink says.

Pink believes that in order to survive – and thrive – in today’s competitive world, workers have to offer something more, something that can’t be duplicated or automated.

He gives the example of engineering as a field that is becoming vulnerable. The engineers who are really flourishing, he says, can do the basic engineering, but they also have good communication skills. They have good inventive skills. They understand design. Maybe they’re multicultural; maybe they’re multilingual. They have a much more robust set of abilities.

“So the idea that you can succeed as an engineer today by simply being good at doing math problems is wrong,” Pink says.

Businesspeople benefit from artistic training

Pink, who analyzes business trends for major media networks in the United States and abroad, based much of his book on extensive interviews he conducted with people all across the world. He says he was surprised to discover how many of the successful people he interviewed – including those with left-brain oriented jobs – had backgrounds in the fine arts.

He says he realized that artistic training was actually doing these people a world of good in the business realm.

“They had a very good left brain, but they were dealing with people who had only a very good left brain, and no right brain, so they were able to become better leaders, better problem solvers, more impactful team members.”

While conducting his research, Pink came to another surprising conclusion: The old numerical index of brain power known as the intelligence quotient, or IQ, may not be the best indicator of a person’s ability to succeed:

“The people who perform at the highest levels are not simply people with high IQs,” Pink says. “IQ matters relatively little in overall career success.”

Both sides of children’s brains need nurturing

Pink believes that in order to become more competitive and successful, society must rediscover ways to develop and nourish right-brain thinking -starting with how we teach our children. He says the U.S. education system is “out of sync” with some of these ideas and with the world of business.

“If we really want to prepare kids for the workplace of the future, we got to make sure that we’re working the left side and the right side of their brains.”

Pink says he’s troubled that a country like the United States has sought merely to produce what he calls “armies of good test-takers,” who are little more than “vending machines for the correct answers.”

“That is a recipe for disaster,” he says.

Parents, teachers take message to heart

A lot of people have taken Pink’s message to heart. In the Northern Virginia city of Alexandria late last year, fans of A Whole New Mind – including parents, teachers and students from across the city – gathered at public libraries, coffeehouses and living rooms for an unusually large community reading event.

Melynda Wilcox, president of the Alexandria Parent-Teacher Association, helped organize the book discussions.

“We think overall we had about 500 people in the city who all read the book at the same time. The feedback has been just overwhelmingly positive,” she says. “People have really enjoyed reading the book.”

Wilcox said she read Pink’s book for the benefit of the reading groups she helped organize, but also as a concerned mother. Wilcox says reading the book even has changed how she looks at parenting.

“I realize how important it is for our kids to be empathetic, for our kids to have a sense of their future being more than just getting good grades or getting good SAT scores,” she says.

Francis Chase has been an art teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, for the past 19 years. He says reading Pink’s book inspired him to change certain elements of his teaching style.

“I used to do a generic lesson plan, where if I had 20 kids, I would try to reach the whole higher, lower and the middle [school],” he says. “Well now, if I have 20 kids, I do 20 different lesson plans.”

Chase adds that the “whole new way of thinking” promoted in Pink’s book is nothing new for people like him working in the art field.

“I’m just smiling and excited that the rest of the world is now catching up to what we’ve been doing for decades,” he says.

Whether the world “catches up” or not, Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind has sparked lively discussions across the land – not only about our remarkable brains, but about new and possibly better ways to cope with an increasingly complex world.