April 10, 2008

Have We Arrived In The Conceptual Age?

I like to revisit the books on my shelf, rather than throw these ideas out wholesale in favour of the latest offerings. So for my journey to a client meeting the other day, I grabbed my copy of Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind - Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Celebrated as 'a ground-breaking guide to surviving, thriving, and finding meaning in a world rocked by outsourcing of jobs abroad and the computerisation of our lives' (see video), now that I'm permanently outsourced to Germany and attached to a computer much of the time, it seemed a good time to check if we're there yet?

Published in 2005, it made quite an impact on me as at that time I was picking up my career again following a break to start a family. It gave me a much-needed confidence boost, as I read about the Six Senses Daniel beleives we all need to develop:

In the Conceptual Age, we will need to complement our left-brain-directed reasoning by mastering six essential right-brain-directed aptitudes. Together these six high-concept, high-touch senses can help develop the whole new mind this new era demands.

  1. Not just function but also DESIGN. It's no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestle that's merely functional. Today it's economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionaly engaging.
  2. Not just argument but also STORY. When our lives are brimming with information and data, it's not enough to marshal an effective argument. Someone somewhere will inevitably track down a counterpoint to rebut
    your point. The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability to fashion a compelling narrative.
  3. Not just focus but also SYMPHONY. Much of the Industrial and Information Ages required focus and specialisation. But as white-collar work gets routed to Asia and reduced to software, there's a permium on the opposite aptitude: putting the pieces together, or what I call symphony. What's in greatest demand today isn't analysis but synthesis - seeing the big picture and, crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an
    arresting new whole.
  4. Not just logic but also EMPATHY. The capacity for logical thought is one of the things that makes us human. But in a world of ubiquitous information and advanced analytic tools, logic alone won't do. What will distinguish those who thrive will be their abilituy to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others.
  5. Not just seriousness but also PLAY. Ample evidence points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games, and humour. There is a time to be serious, of course. But too much sobriety can be bad for your career and worse for your general well-being. In the Conceptual Age, in work and in life, we all need to play.
  6. Not just accumulation but also MEANING. We live in a world of breathtaking material plenty. That has freed hundreds of millions of people from day-to-day struggles and liberated us to pursue more significant desires : purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.

Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning. These six senses increasingly will guide our lives and shape our world. Many of you no doubt welcome such a change. But to some of your, this vision might seem dreadful - a hostile takeover of normal life by a band of poseurs in black unitards who will leave behind the insufficiently arty and emotive. Fear not, the high-concept, high-touch abilities that now matter most are fundamentally human attributes. After all, back on the savanna, our cave-person ancestors weren't taking SATs or plugging numbers into spreadsheets. But they were telling stories, demonstrating empathy, an designing innovations. These abilities have always comprised part of what it means to be human. But after a few generations in the Information Age, these muscles have atrophied. The challenge is to work them back into shape. Anyone can master the six Conceptual Age senses. But those who master them first will have a huge advantage.

What most appealed to me on first reading was the idea of Symphony, where I felt well placed after a career of managing complex, cross-border communications programmes. And I'd argue that your average mother needs to develop advanced Empathy and Play skills just to get through an average at-home-with-the-kids-and-stay-sane day!

But what strikes me now is the extent to which each of these areas illuminate many of the social media behavioural affects we are now seeing, particularly on the Design, Story, and Meaning senses.

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