Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why the world needs right-brainers

People who can see the big picture are poised to take over

Chris Cobb
Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, November 22, 2008

Move over MBAs. Make way for the Masters of Fine Arts.

If author Daniel Pink is correct, right-brained creative types are poised to rule the world.

The U.S. author is not just talking about not-for-profit artistic types who write iffy poetry or eke out a living painting derivative landscapes. He's talking about conceptualizers -- people who can see big pictures and wider implications.

This right-brain crowd is not part of the left-brain crowd that screwed up the economy. Nor does it include the number crunchers whose work is being outsourced for peanuts.

"The forces of abundance -- Asia and automation -- are tipping the scales and putting a premium on right-brain abilities," explains Pink. "The left-brain abilities are essential, but they can be outsourced. You have (U.S.) bank financial analysis and financial processing that is either automatic or being sent to India at lower cost. Right-brain abilities are harder to outsource."

Pink says left-brain thinkers can take comfort because right-brainers will require a smattering of their MBA-like instincts to function. "If you've only got right-brain abilities and no left-brain abilities," he says, "you're going to be in a world of hurt."

Pink makes the argument in his most recent book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

It's a no-brainer, he says.

"More and more you're seeing a meeting in the middle," he says. "Design schools reaching out to business schools and business schools reaching out to design schools. It used to be they didn't even know each other existed."

Right-brainers, effectively suppressed during the dot-com revolution, are now on the fast track.

"If you want to make a living as an oil painter, it's difficult," he concedes. "But there are recruiters all over design colleges. They're not recruiting people to become fine artists, they're from consumer product companies looking for good designers; electronics companies and managing consulting firms looking for people who are multi-disciplinary and who can think in a different way and who can reason not only analytically but esthetically."

Even medical schools -- "bastions of left-brain muscle flexing" -- are getting the message.

"Every medical school in North America now teaches clinical empathy, which is a very right-brain kind of capability," he says. "Harvard and Yale medical schools take students to art museums to make them better diagnosticians." Apparently, learning to observe subtleties in paintings makes physicians sharper at detecting ailments.

The economic collapse proves the need for different ways of viewing the world. "One of the aspects of right-brain thinking is the ability to stand back and see how the pieces all fit together," he says. "Nobody was taking a step back and saying, 'What happens if banks and other lenders don't pay back?"

Pink, now a writer, originally planned to be a lawyer. He graduated from law school but never practised. "It runs counter to what people of my generation -- I'm in my mid-40s -- were told to do," he says. "They were told to get good marks, go to university and master a profession like accounting and law. That gave you a very secure foothold in the middle class."

Pink found law boring. "I wanted to work where I would have more impact."

So he chose politics and decided that "getting the right people elected" was a more noble calling.

For a time, he worked as chief speech writer for U.S. vice-president Al Gore. "Election campaigns are exhilarating," he says, "but they're also exhausting."

Deciding he did not want to spend the rest of his life in politics, Pink went out on his own. "I discovered I was wired to be a writer."

Looking for a truly effective whole brain operator? "Obama is a whole-minded guy," he says of the next president of the United States.

"He obviously has very good left-brain abilities, but if you look at the design of his campaign and the graphic design of his logo, it was brilliant. His visual identity has become iconic in a way that hasn't happened with any other presidential campaign. He took a step back, looked at the big picture and realized the world had changed and decided to run his campaign in a fundamentally different way."

Compare Obama with Hillary Clinton, he adds: "Hillary is a classic left-brainer. Her campaign was caught up in the details and missed that the country was going through a sea change in attitude. They totally missed the big picture."