After reading Leonardo’s Brain I was inspired by the practical advice for overcoming limited left-brained thinking in Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. While this might not enable us to evolve an integrated body and mind to the level of da Vinci, at least it offers a place to start on the journey that Leonard Shlain says is required if we are to survive as a species.
The Conceptual Age
The first part of the book argues that Western societies are undergoing a change from a left-brain dominant Information Age to a right-brained Conceptual Age. The abundance of material goods and information, where obscure facts can be retrieved instantly with a search engine, lessens the value placed on linear “just the facts Ma’am” thinking. Highly paid knowledge workers are being displaced by low-cost workers in Asia, and routine tasks that rewarded those who excel at left-brained logic and sequential thinking are being automated. According to Pink, the yes men of yesteryear will soon disappear (or at least, move to India and China).
Today’s winners in the West need to explore patterns, abstractions, and designs if they are to “rule the future”. The MFA is the new MBA. The age of the image replaces the alphabetic mind. A picture is worth a thousand words. The Conceptual Age requires we cultivate creativity over calculation. The second half of the book investigates six ways to do this.
The Six Senses
Pink inventories six abilities we can cultivate to succeed in the Conceptual Age:
Design or the cultivation of an artistic sensibility, shaping our environment in ways that give meaning to our lives.
Storytelling to make our communications memorable by putting things into context, enriched by emotion and structured for maximum impact.
Symphony or synthesis of relationships and patterns, crossing boundaries and making bold leaps of imagination. Viewing the big picture and not obsessing over details. (Indeed, he celebrates dyslexia as an indicator of superior intuition and big-picture insights.)
Empathy imagining ourselves in someone else’s position, reading faces not just spreadsheets.
Play as we move away from sober seriousness to experience what happens when humor suddenly returns.
Meaning in our lives including the willingness to embrace our spiritual side.
At the end of each of the six chapters in Part Two, Pink lists a portfolio of practical ways we can help to sharpen that ability in our own lives. here’s a wonderfully eclectic series of suggestions, any one of which has the capability to begin to change how we engage a whole new mind. There’s at least a dozen suggestions at in each portfolio. I especially loved:
Design which includes his audacious recommendation that we choose a household item that annoys us in some way, sketch out an improvement and send the suggestion to the manufacturer to see what happens. (I could start with the iced water dispenser in our refrigerator which *will* leak onto the floor…)
Story Write a 50-word mini saga (or, better yet, tell your life story in six words.) For example, this mini saga titled The Talking Fingers of my Great Greek Grandfather by Bob Thurber. Or, perhaps this 50-word extract of verse from a Welsh poet:
..I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns.
Empathy by taking an acting or improv class.
Play By visiting a laughter club.
Meaning by taking a technology sabbath one day a week.
At the end of the day, however, muting the left brain in favor of a more integrated view of reality will probably require more profound changes than any of us are capable of in an afternoon acting or drawing class. Indeed, in the decade that has passed since Pink wrote this book, the rise of image-based communication via smartphones and internet video has started to eclipse the stranglehold the written word has on us. It remains to be seen if future Leonardo’s are being incubated in this new environment.