Future of career and business will need “a whole new mind”

Since the internet bust, I have been wondering about the next big thing and had some very interesting conversations with people in the academia as well as the industry. But I was not finding any common theme or direction. Some people spoke about social networking others talked about the green. When I went back to school 4 years back for my MBA, I continued these conversations with an additional spin of what is the future for our career. Then my daughter, a high school junior asked me to help her understand career and college options. This expanded the time horizon and scope to a macro level. I had a hunch that the future was not in the basic needs of humanity (though clean water, air, environment and health are getting lot of attention) but more in our abstract or intellectual needs such as emotion, art and spirituality. I had some great cocktail party conversations with new MBAs and several parents. Here is a quick summary of my journey so far as I continue to explore.

I studied Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence model and how understanding of our own and others’ emotions plays a key role in the career and business. Several of the leadership models I studied talk about the new style of leadership that is much more collaborative and has some spiritual dimensions to the leader’s personality. The new “Agile” movement emphasizes the servant leadership. Seth Godin talks about how Linchpins create value by expanding beyond their basic job/function, thinking more holistically/artistically and using emotional labor. These models were starting to give me clues on how the future would look for careers and for business. The book that helped me get farthest on my hunch was “A whole new mind” by Daniel Pink.

Pink starts by outlining the development of left brain thinking during the evolution from the agricultural/industrial to information age. For the knowledge workers in the current information age, logic, analytical thinking and our experiences/facts have helped us become successful. He predicts that this cannot sustain, especially for all of us in the developing world because of “Abundance” (in meeting our material needs), “Asia” (knowledge work done lot cheaper in the developing world) and “Automation” (Combination of machines and self-service doing knowledge work faster and cheaper).

Pink argues that the key to the future is in “high-concept” and “high-touch” which our right brain is much more adept in. He believes that the new age which he calls “Conceptual” age will be a society of creators and empathizers or pattern recognizers and meaning makers. He cites several evidences of this change including a statement from a GM executive stating that “GM is in the art business. Art, entertainment and mobile sculpture, which coincidently, also happens to provide transportation.” Other evidences that he listed include the significant increase in number of art/design graduates and the art schools getting more selective than other disciplines (It is lot harder to get in for MFA at UCLA than MBA at Harvard). He also listed the development in the medical schools around “narrative medicine” which uses the patient’s story for diagnosis over the computer generated diagnostics and “hospital overnight program” in which medical students become patients to develop empathy for patients. He talks about the Rainbow project at Yale that is developing an alternative SAT to test the “high-concept”, “high-touch” abilities of the students. Based on early results, the score from the alternative tests were twice as successful in predicting how well students perform in college.

He has identified six high-concept, high-touch aptitudes that will become essential in the new conceptual age. These are:

Design – Not just functional or economically viable but beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging. He argues that design is a “high concept” aptitude that is tough to oursource and is becoming critical for businesses to differentiate. He suggests that we becomes students of design by reading design books, visiting design museums, reading design magazines, and maintaining design notes.

Story – Not just argument(logic) or information/data but to fashion a compelling narrative. He argues that stories are increasingly becoming differentiator for products and services through a connection with the customers. He suggests, we learn story telling through books and practice.

Symphony – Not just specialization, analysis or focus but synthesis – putting the pieces together in an arresting new whole. Symphony is largely about relationships and connections between diverse, and seemingly separate, disciplines. He argues that there will be ample opportunities in the future for people who are boundary crossers, inventors, and metaphor makers. He recommends listening to great symphonies and learning to draw using the right side of the brain to improve this aptitude.

Empathy – Not just logic but empathy- ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and to intuit what that person is feeling. This will allow you to understand what makes others tick, to forge relationships and care for others. By putting yourself in the mind of your customer, you can design better products and deliver better service. He suggests that we measure our EQ (Empathy Quotient), learn acting and practice emapthy.

Play – Not just sobriety but humor and play because there are enough evidences of health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games, and humor. He suggests we join a laughter club, play games and step on the humor scale.

Meaning – Not just routine material value but purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment because pursuit of meaning is the fundamental drive and motivation engine for humans. He suggests that we take spirituality and happiness seriously by learning more about it.

Pink argues that those who develop this new mind and master the high-concept, high-touch abilities will do extremely well in the future. The rest he argues will miss out or, worse, suffer…

Pink makes a strong case for the new mind. Based on my hunch that the future of career and business will be in art and spirituality, I do agree with Pink’s message. In fact, unconsciously, I have been adapting several elements from his message and see the same with others. In our personal lives, we are becoming more high-touch and high-concept but the key is to build a career or business around it so that we survive and excel in the age of abundance, asia and automation(3 A’s). It certainly is a great advise for someone like my daughter as she plans her career. For people already deep in their careers, the key will be to make the shift or reinvent yourself before the 3 A’s get you. It is lot easier said than done, especially if you already spent half of your career doing it the other way.

I am still looking for what the next big thing will be. Maybe there will not be anything as big as the internet boom…

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