Help Wanted: Whole Brain Thinkers

18 05 2010

A few months ago, at a meeting of The Denver Foundation’s Arts and Culture Committee, Stephen Seifert made passing comment about a book he had read recently. Stephen is Executive Director of the Newman Center at the University of Denver and a member of The Denver Foundation’s Arts and Culture Committee. The book he recommended is A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink.

I finally got around to checking the book out of the library and reading it. I found it to be fascinating and thought-provoking. Pink’s thesis is that the jobs of the future in the United States will require more right brain thinking. It has long been known that the brain has two hemispheres, each with different functions. In oversimplified and over generalized terms, the left side of the brain specializes in logic and analytical thinking, while the right side of the brain specializes in emotions and creativity. Pink suggests that the jobs of the late 20th century, such as computer programmers and engineers, stressed left brain skills, while the jobs of the 21st century will stress right brain skills. The book suggests that each of us ask three questions about our current jobs:

1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?

2. Can a computer do it faster?

3. Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?

I am happy to say that most of us in the nonprofit sector can answer the first two questions “no” and the last question “yes.” That would tend to position us well for the future. Pink goes on to describe in some detail the six senses that will be most helpful in the future. I don’t want to ruin the book by listing and describing the senses, but they include the ability to tell good stories, the ability to combine disparate ideas, and having a sense of humor.

In one of my Next Decade meetings, I met with a technology expert from the Silicon Valley. I expected his advice and predictions for the future to be very technology-oriented. To my surprise, without mentioning Pink’s book, he made several of the same arguments. This technology expert said that one of the biggest losses in education today is the reduction or elimination of art and music programs in the public schools. He posited that the skills one learns from art and music, such as creative thinking, will be even more coveted than expertise in math and science. Daniel Pink is careful to point out that everything we do involves both the left side and the right side of our brain. It is not a question of learning math and science or studying poetry, fiction, and the arts. Rather, we must teach and learn all of these disciplines.

David Miller, President and CEO, The Denver Foundation




4 responses

18 05 2010
Linda Campbell

“Right” on David, I couldn’t agree more. Let’s start loving our right brain….it will make our own lives more rich and full and make the world a better place.

19 05 2010
Diane Carman

You and David Brooks are on the same wavelength. In a speech last week at the UCD School of Public Affairs Investment in Excellence dinner, Brooks spoke about the need for politicians — particularly a certain highly analytical, intellectual President of the United States — to cultivate stronger emotional connections with the electorate. We learn from people we love, he insists, and our emotions overwhelm our intellect on a regular basis. All that left-brain productivity can be easily dismissed if the right brain isn’t feeling good about it.

19 05 2010
kathy Brown

David, Even in the advertising industry, full of right brainers, we are adding more non-traditional ad people to help generate ideas and new thinking. It appears there are no limits to right brain influencers!!

21 05 2010
Whit Sibley


I worked with Pink a few years ago in connection with another of his books. Interesting fellow and thinker. I can only agree that we need more “whole brain” thinking. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that, for instance, CEOs today might try relying less on the “advice” of left-brained MBAs, most with with academic prowess but little practical experience. Instead, put the whole brain to the task when facing a challenge. I predict outcomes will be positive indeed. Whether we can rely on politicians to take such advice, as Diane suggests, is, I agree, questionable, but not surprising.


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