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Right-Brainers unite (and save the world)

The going joke when I was in college was that English majors were destined for a life of poverty. Back then computer science, law, and accounting were the fastest tracks to a secure future. For a quite a while, it proved true.

Not any longer, says Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers will Rule the Future. Pink argues that the era of left-brain knowledge worker has given way to a new world—one where people with artistic and more holistic perspectives are needed the most.

For those of you in business for yourself, Pink wrote Free Agent Nation and recently wrote about what motivates people in their work. He points to the software jobs that have been outsourced to Asia and aren’t coming back, and the jobs eliminated by automation in every sector. And yet we still live in an era of comparative abundance, so the products and services that do thrive need to be distinctive, nuanced, and enriching. Because our world is increasingly complex, the workforce needs people who are high-concept thinkers. Poets are the original systems thinkers. Whether you’re solving societal problems or creating goods or services, it takes ingenuity, personal rapport and gut intuition to create solutions and innovate.
Pink points out six essential right-brain skills—if they aren’t part of your mix, then surround yourself with people who have them:

• Design: “Aesthetics matter. Attractive things work better,” says engineering professor Don Norman. It’s no longer enough to create products or experiences that are merely functional. Not only is it economically valuable but it’s also more personally rewarding to create objects that are beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging.

• Story: With so much information out there today, there’s always going to be a counter-argument to whatever point you wish to make. So instead, we communicators have got to rally our ability to persuade, express ourselves clearly, and understand ourselves so we can tell compelling stories.

• Symphony: As white-collar work gets automated and outsourced, those of us who can put the pieces together and synthesize different points of view are the ones who can meet problems most creatively and bridge to solutions.

• Empathy: Sure, we can’t get airplanes to fly or solve the energy crisis if we don’t apply logic to our work. But with so many analytic tools already out there, we also need to understand what makes people tick and build relationships to provide services and solutions that people can actually embrace.

• Play: Just like when we were kids, lighthearted games and humor enrich our personal and professional lives. Don’t underestimate their power to relieve stress, to tell things the way they really are, and to find common ground with others.

• Meaning: It’s a human urge to make meaning beyond what’s in front of us. That’s what poets, artists and spiritual people do. As we’ve attained material wealth as a nation, people are increasingly searching for spirituality and transcendence in the modern world. People are inspired to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Let’s face it, if you lean right-brain, this is simply how you approach the world—with no ulterior motives. But isn’t it nice to know that today’s complex world genuinely needs these qualities? And those of you who flex well on both sides of the brain—logical/rational and emotional intelligence—you’ve got the whole package. Let’s put those Renaissance skills into action!

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