why you need a whole new mind

March 18, 2010

I know I’ve been hinting at my admiration for A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink, for the last month or so, but I’ve finally managed to write a proper post about it.

Because I think you should read this book.

mr. t tries on a whole new mindmr. t tries on a whole new mind

It’s a book about how we’re leaving an era widely known as the Information Age, and entering a new one. Pink writes, “We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and society built on the inventive, empathetic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.” And this book is all about the skills we’ll need in this new age.

The premise here is that many of the jobs held in the Information Age are now carried out by computers, or outsourced to foreign labor. So the jobs of the future will require skills that are more right-brained than left-brained, skills that Pink calls “high concept” and “high touch”.

And while the book’s primary audience is the business world, I think New Mind has big implications for parents, and for homeschooling parents in particular. (An aside: I know that many of my readers aren’t homeschoolers. Still, the fact that you follow this blog, and based on the comments many of you have left, I assume that we have some intersecting philosophies about parenting. I imagine that you value learning that’s meaningful to your child. So while I refer to homeschoolers in the rest of this post for the sake of sentence fluidity, know that I’m speaking to any parent who takes a particular, deep interest in his or her child’s learning.)

Anyway, what’s interesting about the skills–or “abilities”–that Pink writes about is that they’re nothing like the logical, linear skills that schools have convinced us that we’ll need. Let’s see if I can summarize.

  • Design. Pink says that these days, products, services, and experiences can’t be just functional. “Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.” Design matters! Which validates the time your son spends designing a better skateboard ramp, or your daughter spends making a model Indian kitchen. And it’s another reason why project-based learning can be so valuable: when kids choose their own projects and create them, they’re designers. And the act of designing is almost always fulfilling.
  • Story. Hee-haw, you know I love this one! Pink’s point here is that information these days is so accessible that it’s overwhelming. We need people who can present information and data in a compelling way–with story. Story is why you remember the history you’ve learned via historical novels, films, and personal accounts, but not what you learned from a textbook. It’s not so important that our kids memorize a bunch of information; it’s more important that they can shape information into something that’s meaningful and captivating to others. So all those silly Pokemon stories that your kid endlessly rattles off? It’s teaching him to be a storyteller, and it’s good stuff. Keep it going.
  • Symphony. This is the skill of being able to gather disparate bits into something new. This particular ability fascinates me for egocentric reasons–it’s a skill I never conceived of before, but it’s one I think I’m pretty good at. For instance, I’ve always belittled myself for not being a very creative cook. I tend to follow recipes, rather than make up my own. But when I think more about it, I realize that when I cook, I actually pull together lots of information. If I want to make a vegetable lasagna, say, my mind will go back to dozens of recipes I’ve looked at or tried over the last twenty years–and frighteningly, I usually remember where I saw them–and I’ll combine ideas from several and create something new, which is creative in its own way. It’s the same skill that had me cutting up and reassembling my writing in my last post; it’s the one that compels me to compile a bunch of ideas into a book. Symphony is the skill of an applied researcher, I suppose, and it’s something that no one ever told me I had talent for. But I see my kids cultivating it constantly in their self-designed projects–like when one combines wii games with Norse myths. Symphony also includes metaphorical thinking, which is an ability that I always admire, as a writer.
  • Empathy. The ability to walk in another’s shoes. This isn’t a skill that schools truly value–you don’t see standardized tests measuring empathy. But it is an ability that many parents hope to nurture in their kids. And it’s worth nurturing, not only because it’s noble and decent but, according to Pink, it’s also practical. Many jobs of the future will require people to do what computers can’t–interpret the emotional needs of others.
  • Play. Homeschoolers don’t need to be convinced of the importance of play in daily life. We see how much our kids learn from play; we understand that having enough time for play is vital. I found Pink’s chapter on play a bit disappointing; his examples highlighting the importance of play are laughing clubs in India, and the effects of playing video games. Somehow I would have liked more–but I didn’t need to be persuaded. My kids taught me the importance of play years ago.
  • Meaning. This is the ability to understand deeper underlying reasons for doing what we do: “purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment”. This is another ability in which homeschoolers have an intrinsic advantage. If our kids have control over what they learn, it gives their learning value and meaning. They aren’t learning for someone else’s purposes, but because their learning matters to them. Pink quotes American journalist Gregg Easterbrook: “A transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecedented scale–involving hundreds of millions of people–and may eventually be recognized as the principal cultural development of our age.” I think homeschoolers are on the forefront of this transition.

Pink devotes a chapter to each ability, followed by a portfolio of ideas for developing those abilities. The story portfolio, for example, encourages the reader to consider writing a 50-word mini saga, to interview and record friends, to visit a storytelling festival (Carrie, I want to do that this year!), to experiment with digital storytelling. So many exciting ideas. It’s a fun book, an enjoyable read–not what I expected from a book in the Business section.

But here’s what thrills me most about this book: My kids use these abilities constantly. There’s a whole lot of right-brained thinking going on around here. But the kids don’t learn this way because their dad and I want them to “rule the future”, as New Mind‘s subtitle says right-brained thinkers will. We don’t homeschool because we want our kids to get into good colleges, or get better jobs. We’ve homeschooled because we want them to be curious, creative people who love to learn, who know their passions and value the notion that those passions might guide their lives. Their learning is kid-driven and mostly project-based because that’s the sort of learning that motivates them.

Pink’s book won’t change our homeschooling. But it does validate what we’re already doing. A Whole New Mind makes me realize that learning driven by kids and based on their interests isn’t just fun, it’s practical. It’s giving them skills that are not only rewarding and fulfilling but–dare I use this word–marketable. And yes, I’ve always known this, always believed it, but it’s awfully nice to read a carefully researched book written for the big, bad Business World that seconds what homeschoolers have always known.

So I think you should read this book. Not because it will change your life, but because it might give you courage to keep at the life you’ve chosen.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

susan March 18, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Ok! Ok! I’ll read it! I almost ordered it straight off, but then I reserved it at the library instead. I’m 5th in line. The title reminds me of a cartoon that made me snort as a kid. Three people have a guy tied up to a chair. One says, “Let’s brainwash him.” Another says, “Yeah.” The last says, “I washed my own brain last night and I can’t do a thing with it.” I’m always feeling like the last person, so I could really use a whole new brain.

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patricia March 18, 2010 at 10:10 pm

See, I told you that I have a hard time curbing my enthusiasm. But that’s what’s so great about blogs–in person when I natter on like this, you couldn’t just walk away without seeming rude. But if I do it here, you readers can just click away, and I won’t even know.

And tell those other four people to hurry up!

I’m off to wash my brain.

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Just Peaches March 19, 2010 at 5:56 am

Thanks for the recommendation. As I was reading through your summary I was nodding and saying to myself: “Hmm…”symphony” that’s a really interesting way of putting it. Yes, “empathy” my kids have it in spades….um-hmm…”play”
And then you summed it up so nicely with those last two sentences:

So I think you should read this book. Not because it will change your life, but because it might give you courage to keep at the life you’ve chosen.

I’m going to check it out!

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patricia March 19, 2010 at 6:58 am

That’s just the response I expect most homeschoolers to get from this book: nodding their heads and saying “my kids have it in spades”.

I’m glad you’re going to check it out!

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Diane March 19, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I’m halfway through this book now and I’m SO GLAD that you pointed me in its direction! I would never have picked out a business book of my own accord. And I’m glad to be reading it for exactly the reason you give at the end — the courage to keep going with life the way we are making it! Hurrah!!

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patricia March 22, 2010 at 7:37 pm

I know, business shmisness, right? But it is such a fabulous book. I’d just finished reading it when I read your post on E. and his knife. It was such a perfect example of right-brained thinking, rather than traditional school thinking. Hurrah for sure!

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Carrie March 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I’m right there with you, this book sounds like a must read.

I just got the flyers for this years Storytelling Festival, and the dates are May 22/23 . The line up of tellers looks great as always. I can’t wait to spend a weekend lolling in the park, listening to stories and enjoying the Spring Weather.

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patricia March 22, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Okay, I’m keeping those dates in mind. That month is going to be nutty busy, but I’d like to go for a day–and maybe take Mr. T, storyteller extraordinaire.

Pink lists that particular festival in his book!

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melissa s. March 20, 2010 at 8:12 am

I’ve added this book to my never-ending To Read list. Thank you for being such a major contributor to said list 🙂

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patricia March 22, 2010 at 7:38 pm

I know, I’m terrible. Recommending books to people is one of my favorite pastimes!

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molly March 22, 2010 at 11:34 am

i just started reading this book the other night, though i’ve been opting to stitch instead of read the last few evenings. but already i know i’m loving it, as evidenced by the majority of my contributions to family dinner the other night including the preface, “in this book i’m reading…..”. i look forward to coming back and re-reading your post after i finish the book.

speaking of story, i’m currently listening to “the wordy shipmates” by sarah vowell. i think you’d love it! i’m also brewing a history post in my mind and thinking that more history should be taught in the form of an engaging story accompanied by social commentary as to how history applies to current events. you know, homeschool style 🙂

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patricia March 22, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Oh, I know. I’ve brought up the book to my family so many times that I’m sure they’d roll their eyes–if only what I was relaying weren’t so interesting.

As soon as I read a review of The Wordy Shipmates when it first came out, I knew I’d love it. But I always have so many books that I want to read…listening to it on audiobook is a great idea! And I’m right there with you on history. Whenever I hear kids say they don’t like history, I’m sad and baffled. We *love* history around here. But we always delve in via literature and good nonfiction. And Lulu makes sure we get the women and children’s perspective–as well as insight into the food and clothes. She’s my girl, all right!

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wanderingsue August 18, 2013 at 12:56 am

I just finished this book, and also couldn’t stop telling people interesting things from it! Still spinning, a bit, and wanting to go back soon and reread all the portfolios. And think about how they apply to littlies.

I do have to say, though, he made me a bit cross by finishing the afterword in my edition with a real threat- “The peril is… the greatest rewards will go to those who move fast. … (T)hose who move slowly or not at all may miss out or, worse, suffer.”

Well, poo.

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patricia August 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

Isn’t it fantastic, wanderingsue? Especially for someone like you, who is just starting out as a homeschooler. It might help you shape what you value in education.

Regarding that last threat: I’ll just take that to mean that we need to move fast mentally. Keep up with what’s happening in the world. I do that, I think, but in general life I am slow, slow, slow.

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