This is an experimental post. A trial of live-blogging a book review. I’ve just started reading Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind.” Yes, it is five years old, but I’ve noticed that the new wave of researchers seem to be referencing this book more than others in the same genre. As if five years ago they read “A Whole New Mind” and decided, “I’m going to research right-brain thinking”. Now their evidence is coming forward, and whether beneficial or no, I thought it was worthwile to go back to the source.
To give you some context, here is a well known talk given by dan Pink on motivation (based on his first book, “Drive”)
Into the first chapter and Dan is going to great length to describe how science it proving the difference between the left and right brain. The explaination seems to be emphasising the necessity and superiority of the right brain – “right brain is the picture, left brain is the 1000 words.” Is this forgetting the fact that all animals, not just humans have had two brain hemispheres since the dawn of time? Animals are not just amygdala driven simpletons. They were making the left/right divide work to handle their environment before language, before calculation, and before societial orgnisations.
We just reached the point of the two half brains. “The left hemisphere know how to handle logic, the right hemisphere know about the world. Put the two together and one get a powerful thinking machine” – Yes, a brain. Here Dan now uses left/right as a metaphor. L-directed thinking and R-directed thinking has become a construct, based on societial observations. Is this for real?
In Chapter Two, Dan Pink is paying out on all qualified professionals. Is “L-directed thinking” now a dirty word, used interchangeabily with “SATocracy”? He is now going to persuade everyone who was not sold by Ch.1 by explaining his theory in simpler “L-directed” language. Geez. The macro-trends he describes are Abundance, Automation & Asia, and, short of the few personal observation he makes about US consumer life, he does not validate these trends. Abuance proves that people now prefer pretty things (disregarding the production & distribution models that make 1st world abuance possible), Automation make number crunching easier (ask anyone in data management, this is not so), and Asia is taking all the menial L-Directed jobs (demeaning and a little bit racist).
This is absurb! I decided to search out some reviews of “Whole New Mind” to check my own perpective. I found that about half of Amazon and Goodreads review describe “Whole New Mind” as shallow and simplistic, expounding from a flimsy premise. I also found this review. http://fno.org/may08/pink.html which (like others) recommended that “Whole New Mind” is a book of two halves. First half is Pink defending his case that right brainers will take over the world, with little evidence or science involved. The second half has much more value outlining in some detail six new “senses”, or skills, for the Twenty-First Century. I’ve decided to skip forward to the second section.
I’ve skipped forward to the start of section, and caught the end of the previous chapter where Dan outlines the Six Senses. He make a point that these sense have always been a part of what it is to be human, but after a few generations of the Information age they have atrophied. Surely the right brain (or R-directed) thinkers that he is trying to evoke would disagree with this; the statement lacks any evidence or rationality. On to the six senses…
Not just Function, but also Design.
Immediately, my scepticism starts to disolve. This is not an either/or proposition (or L vs R-directed thinking). “Design” also (and somewhat essentially) incorporates Functional Design with the Artistic. The reason is not that the Artist is better, or intrinically adds more value than Functional, it that the tools of Design are not cheaper and more accessible than ever before. Art is easier and less exculsive than in previous generations. “We may not all be Dali or Degas. But today we must all be designers“.
Now the market imperative is used a rationale. I belive that this is a rolling theme for all sense, and it is based on an assumption. L-directed thinking is static, and R-directed thinking is dynamic. If a L-directed thinker were to change a standard feature/process (no matter how logically) they would be embraced as a R-directed thinker.
It’s good to see all forms of design thinking concidered, not just functional or artistic, but also social design, environmental design, and others.
Not just Argument, but also Story.
I have been a big fan of Joeseph Campbell and the Monomyth for a long time, so you won’t find any disagreement from me in this. Robert McKee and Steve Denning have also been on my reading list. I would just ask, is this new? I suppose if this is a new concept to you then Pink does provide a useful introduction.
Not just Focus, but also Symphony.
Symphony is that ability to look at the big picture, apparently another exclusively right brain activity, and the skill that brings Symphony about is drawing. Pink evokes on hius experiences and a “drawing on the right brain” course that he undertook. “Drawing is largely about relationships, that when combined, create the whole.”
The masters of symphony are called Boundary-crossers. While is disagree with the label, I am fammilar with this phenomenonl having crossed many professional and personal boudnaries in my life. Does that make my particulary skillful or R-Directed? No.
Some interesting science is provided. Aparently the Eueraka experience, or a-Ha moment, when do using creative R-directed, correspondes with an exposion of neural- activity in the right hemishpere. When using methodical L-directed methods this areas is not enlivened. While it is hard to draw conclusions from this (Pink certianally tries) it does empirically demonstrate the dffierence between Left/Right mental techniques.
Pink also refers to use of metaphor and a few powerful and entreprenurial dyselxics to show how big picture things as given people and advantage in the world. Not quite a through investigation.
Beside the momentary mention of science, I striggle to see anthing tangible about this. Pink seems to idealise R-Directed thinker who use symphony as masters of their relationships and environment. Apparently, through sketches and metaphor, these people can negotiated the complexity of the world better than their L-Directed counterparts. I fail to see any evidence of this actually being true in the world.
Not just Logic, but also Empathy.
Now the spherical divide of the brain gives way to a gendered divide of the workforce. According to Pink emaphy is a predominately a female trait, an over used simplification. Whether or not this is a valid claim or not is impossible to determine, as no demonstraoble evidence is provided just observation and a diatribatic declarations. To explain I reference The Anthrax example used in this chapter. Two doctors treat two differnt patient, both claiming to have been exposed to anthrax one tested for antrax the other didn’t. both patients, in fact, did were exposed to anthrax, on died teh otehr didn’t. Apparently this is evidence of empathy over logic, or could is as easily be used ofr logic over empahy – oh, the “correct” doctor was female, so she HAS to be be more empahetic.
Not just Seriousness, but also Play.
The concept of play is one that has become partularly popular in the time since “A Whole New Mind” and I’ll forgive Pink for only referencing Laughter Club and not more recent example (becasue, obviously, they didn’t yet exist). But there is one line in particular that set me right off. “(In the context of laughter) When you are being playful you are activating the right side of the brain. The left side of the brain is limited, the right side unlimited.” Truism? It reads as such. Laughter, being a complex human emotion, actually uses many parts of the brain – left-side, right-side and the frontal lobe (where most of our higher function take place) http://www.abc.net.au/spark/scienceof/laughter.htm
Pink goes on to talk about Humour more specifically, citing a study using humor on people with brain damage. Again Pink is elegant his selective simplity. His example describes, a control group that are normal and test group have damage to the right brain. The control group tended to pick the punchline, the test group didn’t. Again a bit of research shows humour is to complex for that; the type of joke/humour is highly contributry to the way the brain behaves. http://aphasiology.pitt.edu/archive/00000130/01/20-05.pdf
Not just Accumulation, but also Meaning.
Whether Spirituality or Happiness, Pink places meaning firmly in the right brain.
Having studied quite deeply on Positive Psychology and Mindfulness, and there are many benefits that are linked to both new fields of study. However, I (again) struggling to see how the search for meaning is so devoid from left-directed thinking. Pink never explains this satisfactorily.
If you’ve made it this far, you may fell I’m being overly negative. This was a great surpise for me; I had hoped to ge more from this book than I did. If I have missed anythind in these book, that may enlighten the process, let me know in the comments.
I guess the point that reoccured for me through out the book was the implication that the left brain was plain, dull and medicore compared to the freer, richer and in all thing better right brain. (as illustrated in this Mercades Benz ad)
Compare that to this alternate ad from the same series, where the unique charateristics of left and right brains are still clearly apparent, but both are still shown as vivid and dynamic (in their own way).
If Pink had have taken this more balance approach, acknowledging that left and right work together, in every moment, to deal with challenges, both simple and profound, then I think that this book would have been easier to digest.