PinWhol 06-2-18


Moving from the information Age to the Conceptual Age


Daniel H. Pink

Riverhead Books (Penguin), 2005, 260 pp., ISBN 1-57322-308-5


Pink is the author of Free Agent Nation and a writer for Wired, Harvard Business Review and other magazines.  He says, “We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of ... the Conceptual Age.”  This age is “high concept” and “high touch.”  Success and satisfaction will increasingly depend on six essential aptitudes: design, story, symphony, empathy, plan, and meaning – primarily “right brain” functions.  These aptitudes can be strengthened. (Introduction)


Three huge social and economic forces are pushing this shift: Abundance, Asia, and Automation.  (Introduction)


The book is a quick read.  Two omissions interest me.  1) There is no recognition of meaning or purpose beyond this life.  2) What happens as the technical work underlying our abundance gets automated and outsourced?  How much have we given up and what are the unforeseen consequences? [dlm]


The left hemisphere of the brain handles analysis, sequence, logic, detail, and words.   The right hemisphere is best at synthesis, context, emotion, relationships, pictures, and the big picture.  The latter has been underemphasized in the Information Age.  In the future artistry, empathy, the long view, the transcendent will help determine who gets ahead and who falls behind. (17-27)


Knowledge workers – lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, and executives, those acquiring and applying theoretical and analytical thinking – were the key players in the Information Age.  (29)  “Our left brains have made us rich.”  “The defining feature of social, economic, and cultural life in much of the world is abundance.” (32)


Abundance means that products must be not only functional but beautiful and meaningful.  (33)  More people are searching for meaning, questing for self-realization – and they are looking for it in the stuff they buy.


Outsourcing knowledge work to Asia is much cheaper and productive.  (36 ff.  See The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.)  Automation is affecting today’s white-collar workers like it did yesterday’s blue-collar workers. (47)


Progression of four ages: Agriculture (farmers) to Industrial (factory workers) to Information (knowledge workers) to Conceptual (creators and empathizers) (49)


Left-brain thinking is still indispensable but it’s no longer sufficient.  “What we need instead is a whole new mind.”  We must supplement with high concept and high touch.  We must “create artistic and emotional beauty, ... create a satisfying narrative [see Branded Nation by James B. Twitchell], and ... combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention.” (51)


“High touch involves the ability to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian, in pursuit of purpose and meaning.” (52)


The only way to differentiate your product is to make it physically beautiful and emotionally compelling.  “Today we’re all in the art business.” (55)  “Meaning is the new money.” (61)


Part Two: the Six Senses

1.      Design (utility enhanced by significance) – beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging

2.      Story – A compelling narrative facilitates persuasion, communication, and self-understanding.

3.      Symphony represents synthesis, seeing the big picture and combining pieces into an arresting new whole.

4.      Empathy – Understanding relationships and caring for others

5.      Play contributes to health and well-being.

6.      Meaning – “We live in a world of breathtaking material plenty.  That has freed hundreds of millions of people from day-to-day struggles and liberated us to pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.” (67) [This is an interesting analysis but something seems awry.  Did not our forbears, whose lives consisted of difficulty and hardship, also have a very strong sense of purpose and meaning?  And has not our luxury provided diversion that dims that sensitivity?  dlm]


Pink has a chapter on each of the senses and some exercises and resources to develop that sense or aptitude.


“Design is the only thing that differentiates one product from another in the marketplace.”  (78) [Twitchell says it is branding. dlm]  “You need to differentiate or you cannot survive.” (79, quoting Asenio)


Stories are easier to remember—because in many ways, stories are how we remember.”  “Most of our experience, our knowledge and our thinking is organized as stories.” (99)


“Today facts are ubiquitous, nearly free, and available at the speed of light.” “What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.” (100-101)


A midlevel executive at the World Bank “discovered that he learned more from trading stories in the cafeteria than he did from reading the bank’s official documents and reports.  An organization’s knowledge, he realized, is contained in its stories.” (105)


“ the ability to put together the pieces.  It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.” (126)


“Modern life’s glut of options and stimuli can be so overwhelming that those with the ability to see the big picture—to sort out what really matters—have a decided advantage in their pursuit of personal well-being.” (127)


Symphony is largely about relationships...connecting diverse and seemingly separate disciplines.  It uses analogy.  These people are boundary crossers. (130)  “They reject either/or choices and seek multiple options and blended solutions.” (132)


“Metaphorical imagination is essential in forging empathic connections....”  (136)


“Seeing the big picture is fast becoming a killer app in business.” (137)


“Many of us are crunched for time, deluged by information, and paralyzed by the weight of too many choices.  The best prescription for these modern maladies may be to approach one’s own life in a contextual, big-picture fashion—to distinguish between what really matters and what merely annoys.” (139)


One suggestion:  “Visit the largest newsstand you can find.  Spend twenty minutes browsing—and select ten publications that you’ve never read and would likely never buy.  That’s the key: buy magazines you never noticed before.  Then take some time to look through them.”


Write down compelling and surprising metaphors you encounter.  Read Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson


Empathy is “climbing into another’s mind to experience the world from that person’s perspective.” (153) 


The mode of the emotions is nonverbal.  The main display is the face.  You begin by looking in another’s face. (156)  When it comes to interacting with people, computers are autistic. (158)  Empathy is powerful, even in medicine. (163)  But it can’t be delivered by fiber optic cable! (165)


“The Web is full of self-assessments, many of which have all the scientific validity of phrenology.” (171)


Play.  “People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it.” (179, quoting Southwest Airlines Mission Statement)


“Humor is showing itself to be an accurate marker for managerial effectiveness....   Laughter is demonstrating its power to make us more productive and fulfilled.” (180)


“Shammi and Stuss maintain that humor represents one of the highest forms of human intelligence.”  (190) [Harold Stukes confirms this. dlm]


“Jokes that people tell at the workplace can reveal as much or perhaps more about the organization, its management, its culture, and its conflicts than answers to carefully administered surveys.” (191, quoting David Collinson)


“Inglehart believes that the advanced world is in the midst of a slow change in its operating principles, ‘a gradual shift from ‘Materialist’ values...toward ‘Postmaterialist’ priorities (emphasizing self-expression and the quality of life).’”  “A transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecedented scale.... and may eventually be recognized as the principal cultural development of our age.” (quoting Gregg Easterborrk, American journalist), (210)


“Across many different realms, there’s a growing recognition that spirituality—not religion necessarily, but the more broadly defined concern for the meaning and purpose of life—is a fundamental part of the human condition.” (212) [!]


“At the very least, we ought to take spirituality seriously because of its demonstrated ability to improve our lives....” (213) [Be pragmatic. dlm]


“Meaning. Purpose. Deep life experience.  Use whatever word or phrase you like, but know that consumer desire for these qualities is on the rise.” (216, quoting Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes) [It’s marketable. dlm]


“In this new era each of us must look carefully at what we do and ask ourselves:

1.      Can someone overseas do it cheaper?’

2.      Can a computer do it faster?

3.      Am I offering something that satisfies the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age?” (232)


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