[Paleopsych] Wired 13.02: Revenge of the Right Brain
Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D.
ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Mon Apr 25 02:07:01 UTC 2005
I thoroughly disagree with the premise. First, the idea of right-brain /
left-brain has been thoroughly discounted. Second, the author is
creating a false dichotomy. Most technical people are creative and
artistic. Both my brother (Ph.D., chemical engineering) and my son
(mechanical engineering) play jazz guitar.
Premise Checker wrote:
> Revenge of the Right Brain
> Logical and precise, left-brain thinking gave us the Information Age.
> Now comes the Conceptual Age - ruled by artistry, empathy, and
> By Daniel H. Pink
> When I was a kid - growing up in a middle-class family, in the middle
> of America, in the middle of the 1970s - parents dished out a familiar
> plate of advice to their children: Get good grades, go to college, and
> pursue a profession that offers a decent standard of living and
> perhaps a dollop of prestige. If you were good at math and science,
> become a doctor. If you were better at English and history, become a
> lawyer. If blood grossed you out and your verbal skills needed work,
> become an accountant. Later, as computers appeared on desktops and
> CEOs on magazine covers, the youngsters who were really good at math
> and science chose high tech, while others flocked to business school,
> thinking that success was spelled MBA.
> Tax attorneys. Radiologists. Financial analysts. Software engineers.
> Management guru Peter Drucker gave this cadre of professionals an
> enduring, if somewhat wonky, name: knowledge workers. These are, he
> wrote, "people who get paid for putting to work what one learns in
> school rather than for their physical strength or manual skill." What
> distinguished members of this group and enabled them to reap society's
> greatest rewards, was their "ability to acquire and to apply
> theoretical and analytic knowledge." And any of us could join their
> ranks. All we had to do was study hard and play by the rules of the
> meritocratic regime. That was the path to professional success and
> personal fulfillment.
> But a funny thing happened while we were pressing our noses to the
> grindstone: The world changed. The future no longer belongs to people
> who can reason with computer-like logic, speed, and precision. It
> belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind.
> Today - amid the uncertainties of an economy that has gone from boom
> to bust to blah - there's a metaphor that explains what's going on.
> And it's right inside our heads.
> Scientists have long known that a neurological Mason-Dixon line
> cleaves our brains into two regions - the left and right hemispheres.
> But in the last 10 years, thanks in part to advances in functional
> magnetic resonance imaging, researchers have begun to identify more
> precisely how the two sides divide responsibilities. The left
> hemisphere handles sequence, literalness, and analysis. The right
> hemisphere, meanwhile, takes care of context, emotional expression,
> and synthesis. Of course, the human brain, with its 100 billion cells
> forging 1 quadrillion connections, is breathtakingly complex. The two
> hemispheres work in concert, and we enlist both sides for nearly
> everything we do. But the structure of our brains can help explain the
> contours of our times.
> Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and
> business were characteristic of the left hemisphere. They were the
> sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by SATs and
> deployed by CPAs. Today, those capabilities are still necessary. But
> they're no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing,
> deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter
> most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right
> hemisphere - artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing
> the transcendent.
> Beneath the nervous clatter of our half-completed decade stirs a slow
> but seismic shift. The Information Age we all prepared for is ending.
> Rising in its place is what I call the Conceptual Age, an era in which
> mastery of abilities that we've often overlooked and undervalued marks
> the fault line between who gets ahead and who falls behind.
> To some of you, this shift - from an economy built on the logical,
> sequential abilities of the Information Age to an economy built on the
> inventive, empathic abilities of the Conceptual Age - sounds
> delightful. "You had me at hello!" I can hear the painters and nurses
> exulting. But to others, this sounds like a crock. "Prove it!" I hear
> the programmers and lawyers demanding.
> OK. To convince you, I'll explain the reasons for this shift, using
> the mechanistic language of cause and effect.
> The effect: the scales tilting in favor of right brain-style thinking.
> The causes: Asia, automation, and abundance.
> Few issues today spark more controversy than outsourcing. Those
> squadrons of white-collar workers in India, the Philippines, and China
> are scaring the bejesus out of software jockeys across North America
> and Europe. According to Forrester Research, 1 in 9 jobs in the US
> information technology industry will move overseas by 2010. And it's
> not just tech work. Visit India's office parks and you'll see
> chartered accountants preparing American tax returns, lawyers
> researching American lawsuits, and radiologists reading CAT scans for
> US hospitals.
> The reality behind the alarm is this: Outsourcing to Asia is overhyped
> in the short term, but underhyped in the long term. We're not all
> going to lose our jobs tomorrow. (The total number of jobs lost to
> offshoring so far represents less than 1 percent of the US labor
> force.) But as the cost of communicating with the other side of the
> globe falls essentially to zero, as India becomes (by 2010) the
> country with the most English speakers in the world, and as developing
> nations continue to mint millions of extremely capable knowledge
> workers, the professional lives of people in the West will change
> dramatically. If number crunching, chart reading, and code writing can
> be done for a lot less overseas and delivered to clients instantly via
> fiber-optic cable, that's where the work will go.
> But these gusts of comparative advantage are blowing away only certain
> kinds of white-collar jobs - those that can be reduced to a set of
> rules, routines, and instructions. That's why narrow left-brain work
> such as basic computer coding, accounting, legal research, and
> financial analysis is migrating across the oceans. But that's also why
> plenty of opportunities remain for people and companies doing less
> routine work - programmers who can design entire systems, accountants
> who serve as life planners, and bankers expert less in the intricacies
> of Excel than in the art of the deal. Now that foreigners can do
> left-brain work cheaper, we in the US must do right-brain work better.
> Last century, machines proved they could replace human muscle. This
> century, technologies are proving they can outperform human left
> brains - they can execute sequential, reductive, computational work
> better, faster, and more accurately than even those with the highest
> IQs. (Just ask chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.)
> Consider jobs in financial services. Stockbrokers who merely execute
> transactions are history. Online trading services and market makers do
> such work far more efficiently. The brokers who survived have morphed
> from routine order-takers to less easily replicated advisers, who can
> understand a client's broader financial objectives and even the
> client's emotions and dreams.
> Or take lawyers. Dozens of inexpensive information and advice services
> are reshaping law practice. At CompleteCase.com, you can get an
> uncontested divorce for $249, less than a 10th of the cost of a
> divorce lawyer. Meanwhile, the Web is cracking the information
> monopoly that has long been the source of many lawyers' high incomes
> and professional mystique. Go to USlegalforms.com and you can download
> - for the price of two movie tickets - fill-in-the-blank wills,
> contracts, and articles of incorporation that used to reside
> exclusively on lawyers' hard drives. Instead of hiring a lawyer for 10
> hours to craft a contract, consumers can fill out the form themselves
> and hire a lawyer for one hour to look it over. Consequently, legal
> abilities that can't be digitized - convincing a jury or understanding
> the subtleties of a negotiation - become more valuable.
> Even computer programmers may feel the pinch. "In the old days,"
> legendary computer scientist Vernor Vinge has said, "anybody with even
> routine skills could get a job as a programmer. That isn't true
> anymore. The routine functions are increasingly being turned over to
> machines." The result: As the scut work gets offloaded, engineers will
> have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than
> Any job that can be reduced to a set of rules is at risk. If a
> $500-a-month accountant in India doesn't swipe your accounting job,
> TurboTax will. Now that computers can emulate left-hemisphere skills,
> we'll have to rely ever more on our right hemispheres.
> Our left brains have made us rich. Powered by armies of Drucker's
> knowledge workers, the information economy has produced a standard of
> living that would have been unfathomable in our grandparents' youth.
> Their lives were defined by scarcity. Ours are shaped by abundance.
> Want evidence? Spend five minutes at Best Buy. Or look in your garage.
> Owning a car used to be a grand American aspiration. Today, there are
> more automobiles in the US than there are licensed drivers - which
> means that, on average, everybody who can drive has a car of their
> own. And if your garage is also piled with excess consumer goods,
> you're not alone. Self-storage - a business devoted to housing our
> extra crap - is now a $17 billion annual industry in the US, nearly
> double Hollywood's yearly box office take.
> But abundance has produced an ironic result. The Information Age has
> unleashed a prosperity that in turn places a premium on less rational
> sensibilities - beauty, spirituality, emotion. For companies and
> entrepreneurs, it's no longer enough to create a product, a service,
> or an experience that's reasonably priced and adequately functional.
> In an age of abundance, consumers demand something more. Check out
> your bathroom. If you're like a few million Americans, you've got a
> Michael Graves toilet brush or a Karim Rashid trash can that you
> bought at Target. Try explaining a designer garbage pail to the left
> side of your brain! Or consider illumination. Electric lighting was
> rare a century ago, but now it's commonplace. Yet in the US, candles
> are a $2 billion a year business - for reasons that stretch beyond the
> logical need for luminosity to a prosperous country's more inchoate
> desire for pleasure and transcendence.
> Liberated by this prosperity but not fulfilled by it, more people are
> searching for meaning. From the mainstream embrace of such once-exotic
> practices as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the
> workplace to the influence of evangelism in pop culture and politics,
> the quest for meaning and purpose has become an integral part of
> everyday life. And that will only intensify as the first children of
> abundance, the baby boomers, realize that they have more of their
> lives behind them than ahead. In both business and personal life, now
> that our left-brain needs have largely been sated, our right-brain
> yearnings will demand to be fed.
> As the forces of Asia, automation, and abundance strengthen and
> accelerate, the curtain is rising on a new era, the Conceptual Age. If
> the Industrial Age was built on people's backs, and the Information
> Age on people's left hemispheres, the Conceptual Age is being built on
> people's right hemispheres. We've progressed from a society of farmers
> to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And
> now we're progressing yet again - to a society of creators and
> empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers.
> But let me be clear: The future is not some Manichaean landscape in
> which individuals are either left-brained and extinct or right-brained
> and ecstatic - a land in which millionaire yoga instructors drive BMWs
> and programmers scrub counters at Chick-fil-A. Logical, linear,
> analytic thinking remains indispensable. But it's no longer enough.
> To flourish in this age, we'll need to supplement our well-developed
> high tech abilities with aptitudes that are "high concept" and "high
> touch." High concept involves the ability to create artistic and
> emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a
> satisfying narrative, and to come up with inventions the world didn't
> know it was missing. High touch involves the capacity 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.
> Developing these high concept, high touch abilities won't be easy for
> everyone. For some, the prospect seems unattainable. Fear not (or at
> least fear less). The sorts of abilities that now matter most are
> fundamentally human attributes. After all, back on the savannah, our
> caveperson ancestors weren't plugging numbers into spreadsheets or
> debugging code. But they were telling stories, demonstrating empathy,
> and designing innovations. These abilities have always been part of
> what it means to be human. It's just that after a few generations in
> the Information Age, many of our high concept, high touch muscles have
> atrophied. The challenge is to work them back into shape.
> Want to get ahead today? Forget what your parents told you. Instead,
> do something foreigners can't do cheaper. Something computers can't do
> faster. And something that fills one of the nonmaterial, transcendent
> desires of an abundant age. In other words, go right, young man and
> woman, go right.
> Adapted from A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the
> Conceptual Age, copyright © by Daniel H. Pink, to be published in
> March by Riverhead Books. Printed with permission of the publisher.
> Contributing editor Daniel H. Pink (dp at danpink.com) wrote about Gross
> National Happiness in issue 12.1
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