[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
> http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.02/brain_pr.html
>    Logical and precise, left-brain thinking gave us the Information Age.
>    Now comes the Conceptual Age - ruled by artistry, empathy, and
>    emotion.
>    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.
>    Asia
>    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.
>    Automation
>    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
>    competence.
>    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.
>    Abundance
>    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
> 2.
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