A Whole New Mind

Brain image

This will be the first in an occasional (depending on how fast I can read and blog) series on books by some of the world’s thought leaders and the relationship of their ideas to veterinary and medical education,  eLearning and life in general.

The first book is A Whole New Mind, written by Daniel Pink, an American author and journalist who I became aware of through his TED talks.

Pink’s opening premise is based on the widely accepted but dramatically simplified (and acknowledged as such in the text) idea that the two sides of the brain have largely different functions – the left brain deals with logical steps in a task, language and knowledge while the right side is more creative, ‘big picture’ orientated and empathetic. In the knowledge economy which prevailed for 20 years, many highly valued jobs, such as those in the IT area, were left-brained knowledge jobs. Globalisation has meant that many of these jobs have been sent off-shore or automated to decrease labour costs –a situation with which I have personal experience as this happened to my husband’s job late last year. Pink attests that the new high-value employees will need right-brain creative skills to allow them to stand out from the crowd. He calls these new skills the 6 senses – design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning, and relates them back to current work practices in different industries.

  1. Design:  Objects or experiences must be designed to have a combination of utility and significance (a term used to mean ideas or emotions that words can’t convey). An example is the design of hospitals – there is evidence that patients in areas with natural night and more pleasant surroundings recover more quickly. You are designing an experience for your patients or clients and that design has a huge impact.
  1. Story:  Facts are now so easily available in the connected world that to make them have significance they need to be in context and have some emotional impact. In a vet context it reminded me of a very wise boss I had about 10 years ago who taught us always to think about the owners and the story behind the case. The importance of this really came home to me when a young couple were being a bit difficult about their dog being in hospital with pancreatitis. I was getting frustrated with the situation until I learnt they had recently found they could not have children and so had adopted the dog. Suddenly their behaviour made sense and we went on to develop a close relationship. Thankfully the dog recovered completely.
  1. Symphony:  Detecting relationships between apparently unrelated fields often leads to innovation. People who see unusual connections are often those who have expertise in multiple spheres, for example those with double degrees in disparate fields. This concept was perfectly expressed by the late Steve Jobs in Wired Magazine in February 1996, when he said, ‘Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.’
  1. Empathy:  Good designers put themselves into the minds of the user. Empathy is closely related to symphony in that empathetic people see the whole person in the way that symphonic thinkers see the whole picture. One example from the medical sphere is that some medical schools teach observation and interpretation of non-visual communication cues to allow doctors to better understand their patient’s feelings.
  1. Play: Play is a form of creativity for adults as well as children. A current example is the widespread popularity of computer games, which have proven beneficial in training in many fields. In the eLearning sphere there is a growing interest towards gamification of learning. Some features of this include engagement with other learners and permission to fail in a safe environment.
  1. Meaning: People are increasingly seeking a higher meaning in their work and life. Several medical schools have introduced spirituality into their curriculum, both for the student’s need for meaning as well as understanding their patients.

For those of you, like me, who feel you are poor at right brain approaches there are interesting exercises, references and suggestions at the end of each chapter to help you develop your skills.

This book really resonated with me because I see evidence in many spheres that basic knowledge and being able to follow a process, however quickly and efficiently, will not be enough in the new work environment. This trend is highlighted in this article from Slate magazine about medicinal drug research. It also made me realise how important my right brain time (which is when I’m running) is to me – that’s when I have almost all my best ideas.

My whole brain has benefitted greatly from this book and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Image derived from Gutenberg Atlas. Author unknown.


About rebekahmcbrown

I am a veterinarian with a special interest in instructional design and developing eLearning in the veterinary and medical areas. I write teaching materials for both face-to-face and online learning as well as writing and editing articles.
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4 Responses to A Whole New Mind

  1. timjwhitebeng says:

    If creativity is the new thing, shouldnt the value of an arts degree be increasing compared to other degrees?
    Should we utilise creative kids for business, legal and medical decisions?
    Is sustainable and healthy building deaign more creative than evidence based?
    Should you choose a doctor who can tell a good story rather than one with better treatment outcomes?

    • Thanks for your thoughts Tim and sorry it has taken me so long to reply. In regards to your first comment, unfortunately I have returned the book to the library so can’t quote exactly but according to Dan Pink fine arts degrees and design qualifications are booming and some companies are employing people with arts backgrounds rather than MBAs.
      On the building design topic, an evidence base is being obtained to support the idea that design makes a difference.
      The drive to increase the right-brain input into traditionally left-brained professions such as medicine is not to have doctors who are just good storytellers but to increase the understanding of the importance of storytelling to improve patient outcomes across the board.

  2. JT says:

    The problem with all this knowledge is the increasing amount of misinformation. There are so many ‘certified experts’ out there trying to sell false information and treatments. True knowledge workers are important to filter the quality information. Interesting rundown on some of the problems with ‘certified experts treating animals here: http://www.doctorramey.com/certified-experts/

  3. Pingback: Linchpin | Rebekah Brown

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