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How to survive in the conceptual age

Image by Google Books

When Daniel H. Pink wrote A Whole New Mind, his objective was to gain attention from young adults, teens, and especially children. Pink felt that students were too indoctrinated by the school system, too focused on the right answer and pleasing authority figures rather than allowing their intrinsic motivation to blossom. His book is intended to help develop creativity and passion in young minds, preparing them for the future ahead.

The Left and Right Brain

Scientists have discovered that there is a line that divides the brain into two regions. The left side would be known as the crucial half, while the right side was subsidiary, the remnant. What you would expect in a brain, the left hemisphere possessed. It was rational, analytic, and logical. As further studies were done, a Caltech professor named Rodger W. Sperry discovered that the right brain wasn’t inferior to the left, it was just different. Although both halves play a role in everything we do, the left brain handles logic, sequence, literalness, and analysis while the right brain takes care of synthesis, emotional expression, context, and the big picture. Both sides work together despite specializing in different aspects. The characteristics of the left side of the brain are often referred to as L-Directed Thinking. The characteristics of the right side of the brain are often referred to as R-Directed Thinking.

The Transition to the Conceptual Age

As the world evolves and matures, so should one’s creativity. This new era no longer revolves around left-brain thinking…the future has arrived. Those who do not mature with the ages will struggle and possibly get left behind. This drastic change from L-Directed Thinking to R-Directed Thinking is the transition from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, from knowledge workers to creators and empathizers. Pink states, “Now, R-Directed Thinking is suddenly grabbing the wheel, stepping on the gas, and determining where we’re going and how we’ll get there.” (p. 27)

One’s intelligence is no longer enough to continually and successfully thrive in the modern world. New technology is able to replace human left brains causing destruction and change to the majority of the jobs L-Directed thinkers would generally thrive in. Machines are becoming more reliable than humans ever were or could be. They don’t screw up, fatigue, choke under pressure, nor sulk over losses…they are simply superior.

Pink explains early on in the book, “To survive in this age, individuals and organizations must examine what they’re doing to earn a living and ask themselves, ‘Can a computer do it faster?’” (p. 51) What would give an individual an advantage, an edge over a computer that can do everything better, stronger, and faster? One’s livelihood depends on being able to do something machinery is incapable of. There are several attributes humans possess that computers do not. Computers do not express those same emotional and creative characteristics that draw people in. Making those emotional and touching connections is what attracts and allows distinction. The ability to learn and develop these creative skills will be the difference between those who get ahead and those who get left behind.

Image by Austin Kleon

The Six Senses

Breaking Down the Six Senses

Pink believes that by mastering these six essential aptitudes, one will gain a huge advantage in this new era. He created a portfolio, it holds a collection of tools, exercises, and further reading culled from research and travels that can help you surface and sharpen those senses. He devoted one chapter to each of these six senses, describing how it is being put to use in business and everyday life.


Design is something that is easily dismissed. If you take a look up and observe your surroundings, notice that everything you see has been designed. Whether it be the clothes that cover your body or the piece of furniture you are sitting on, they have all begun with a design. Design is a high-concept aptitude that increasingly offers a competitive advantage in business. Today it’s crucial to create something that is not only functional but whimsical.

How to Develop Sense of Design

1. Keep a Design Notebook

Buy a small notebook and begin carrying it with you wherever you go. When you see a great design, make a note of it. Do the same for flawed designs. Before long, you’ll understand in a deeper way how design decisions shape our everyday lives.

2. Channel Your Annoyance

Choose an intel that annoys you in any way. Go by yourself, somewhere you could focus, and think about how you could improve the poorly designed item.

3. Read Design Magazines

Reading design magazines can sharpen your eye and inspire your mind. These are some must-reads provided by Pink:

- Ambidextrous: This magazine explores the craft of design and the nuances of design thinking.

- Dwell: One of the most respected shelter magazines.

- Metropolis: Offers tremendous insight into the built environment.


Stories are easy to remember, in many ways stories are how we remember. “Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories,” Rodger C. Schank, cognitive scientist stated. The value of facts are depleting, when they become so instantly accessible and available, it is no longer worth a thousand words. Stories are important events that provide information, knowledge, and emotion. The ability to encapsulate and emotionalize stories have made an important impact on business. It has become a way for companies to distinguish products and services. The best way to develop a high-touch connection is through a story.

Pink provided an example of storytelling with his own experience. While he was at the store one afternoon picking up food for dinner he decided to grab a bottle of wine. The selection was endless but he narrowed it down to three inexpensive bottles. All three were about the same price and appeared to be the same quality. How did he decide which one to choose? Two of the bottles had labels filled with fancy wine adjectives, but the third bottle told him a story. A story that he felt developed a connection to this company. Could you guess which wine he bought?

How to Develop Sense of Story

1. Write a Mini-Saga

Although mini-sagas are extremely short stories, they have a beginning, middle, and an end. Try and see how much creativity could be packed into just fifty words. Two examples included:

- A Life by Jane Rosenberg (Brighton, United Kingdom)

- A Dream So Real by Patrick Forsyth (Maldon, United Kingdom)

2. Whip Out the Tape Recorder

Find a friend, relative, or even a stranger, sit down, and begin asking questions about their life. You will be amazed at some of the stories that pour out.

3. Visit a Storytelling Festival

Gathering at some of these festivals is a great way to hear more about the incredible and diverse stories people around the world have to offer. Here are some of the festivals:

- National Storytelling Festival: Features storytellers from the “circumpolar world”

Where: Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

When: June

- Bay Area Storytelling Festival: One of the best festivals in the western United States.

Where: El Sobrante, California

When: May


This aptitude is the ability to put the pieces together. The ability to synthesize, see relationships, detect patterns, and invent something new. Those that possess these abilities have an advantage over computers and their technology. It is extremely difficult and near impossible for computers to replicate those same abilities. Symphony is largely about seeing the big picture and puzzle solving. Now, what has become most important is having the attributes that fast computers can not do nearly as well: integrating and imagining how the pieces all fit together.

How to Develop Sense of Symphony

1. Draw

Drawing, like a symphony, is about seeing relationships and then integrating those relationships into a whole. A great video to watch is:

- Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Edwards and Bomeisler

2. Create an Inspiration Board

Any time you see something you find interesting or compelling, stick it on the board. Whether it be a photo, piece of scrap, or fabric, the more added to the board the sooner connections between images will be shown.

3. Read these Books

The books suggested by Pink will help sharpen your abilities of symphony:

- Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture by William Benzon

How the mind processes and uses all parts of the brain while listening to music.

- Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together by William Isaacs

Identifying patterns by collaborating with others.


Empathy is what gives you the ability to understand and connect with other human beings. Imagining yourself in someone else’s position, sensing what it would be like to be that person. Empathy is one aptitude that’s proven impossible for computers to reproduce. In design, good designers place themselves into the mind of whoever the targeted audience is, whoever is going to experience what they are designing. Both design and storytelling are deeply connected with empathy.

How to Develop Sense of Empathy

1. Test Yourself

These tests are used to measure individual empathetic qualities. It is a fun way to learn more about empathy while learning more about yourself. Some free online tests include:

- Spot the Fake Smile: How well are you able to direct a fake smile from a real one?

- Mind in the Eyes Test: Measures your ability to identify facial expression while only looking at their eyes

2. Don’t Outsource Your Empathy

Instead of buying premade cards for birthdays or anniversaries, try making one on your own. Hand made cards are much more meaningful than a mass-produced one. The effort put towards making the card personal and unique to the receiver is a heartwarming thing to know.

3. Take an Acting Class

Actors try to place themselves in the mind and the heart of the person they are attempting to embody. Acting is a great way to understand emotional expression.


It has been proven that playing video games enhances the right-brains ability to solve problems that require pattern recognition. Studies have shown that playing video games at work can boost productivity. Like symphony, video games are about spotting trends, drawing connections, and seeing the big picture. This is why the aspect of play is increasingly valuable in the world of work.

How to Develop Sense of Play

1. Find a Laughter Club

Laughing triggers physical and emotional changes in the body. It releases endorphins that promote an overall sense of well being. It helps you stay positive and optimistic in difficult situations.

2. Dissect a Joke

What makes a joke funny? Try to figure out what makes a joke humorous. Was it the obscurity of the phrase, the sound of a particular word? If you occasionally step back and break down a joke or funny line you’ll gain a deeper comprehension of which kinds of humor work and which don’t.

3. Play Right-Brain Games

These games are designed to test and enhance R-Directed abilities:

- Sommer Sommer Brain Test: Measures whether you’re right-brain or left-brain dominant.

- Puzzles and Matching games: Improves attention and memory skills.


Meaning has become the central aspect of work and life, one’s fundamental drive is the pursuit of meaning. It has allowed people to pursue more significant desires, providing a purpose in one’s life.

How to Develop A Sense of Meaning

1. Say Thanks

Feeling of gratitude may enhance one’s sense of meaning. Write a detailed “gratitude letter” to a person of meaning in your life. Gratitude is very moving and meaningful to both people.

2. Take the 20-10 Test

The 20-10 test questions whether people would change what they are doing if they had $20 million dollars or knew they had no more than ten years to live. Would you spend your days the way you do now? If the answer is no, some reevaluating has to be done.

3. Picture Yourself at Ninety

Viktor Frankl once said, “Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.” What does your life look like when you view it from another vantage point? What have you accomplished? What are your regrets? Asking yourself these questions are extremely valuable when assessing your life.

This new age demands a whole new mind. Being able to develop the essential abilities and aptitudes of the six high-concept senses will help one achieve success and satisfaction in this new era.

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