Dan Pink on the Value of High-Concept and High-Touch


A Whole New Mind mindmap
When Dan Pink wrote A Whole New Mind, he presented six aptitudes that are highly subjective, socially- and culturally-dependent. In his view these fundamental human abilities are absolute essentials for professional success and personal fulfillment. In his view:

  • Design is an asset above function
  • Story is an asset above argument
  • Symphony is an asset above focus
  • Empathy is an asset above logic
  • Play is an asset above seriousness, and
  • Meaning is an asset above accumulation

In the book, Dan uses neuroscience to create a metaphor to articulate the value of what he calls high-concept, high-touch work. He says R-directed is about big picture, contextual, expressive synthesis and L-directed represents logic, sequential, literal, and analytical thinking.

The premise of the book is that we live in the age of Abundance, Asia, and Automation and need R-directed thinking to navigate these forces successfully. 

“Design — that is utility enhanced by significance — has become an essential aptitude for personal fulfillment and professional success for at least three reasons. First, thanks to rising prosperity and advancing technology, good design is now more accessible than ever, which allows more people to partake in its pleasures and become connoisseurs of what was once specialized knowledge. Second, in an age of material abundance, design has become crucial for most modern businesses — as a means of differentiation and as a way to create new markets. Third, as more people develop design sensibility, we'll increasingly be able to deploy design for its ultimate purpose: changing the world.”

In business design is taking a whole new meaning. Once the province of geeks and designers, the argument that creating better experiences is a competitive advantage has gone mainstream thanks also to Apple's market success.

“Think about cell phones,” says Pink. “In less than a decade, they've gone from being a luxury for some to being a necessity for most to becoming an accessorized expression of individuality for many. They've morphed from 'logical devices' (which emphasized speed and specialized function) to 'emotional devices' (which are 'expressive, customizable, and fanciful'), as Japanese personal electronics executive Toshiro Iizuka puts it. Consumers now spend nearly as much on decorative (and nonfunctional) faceplates for their cell phones as they do on the phones themselves.”

Steve Jobs understood, and made sure that his team aligned behind this understanding upon his return to Apple, that the only way to survive is by constantly developing new innovations, inventing new categories, and giving the world something it didn't know it was missing.

As we increasingly admire companies like Apple and its digital hub system execution and Amazon and its collection of businesses sharing resources, we come to appreciate the value of symphony, or the ability to see and harness the power of relationships between things. Says Pink:

“Most inventions and breakthroughs come from reassembling existing ideas in new ways.

[…]

What conductors and composers desire — what separates the long remembered from the quickly forgotten — is the ability to marshal these relationships into a whole whose magnificence exceeds the sum of its parts.

[…] The boundary crosser, the inventors, and the metaphor maker all understand the importance of relationships. But the Conceptual Age also demands the ability to grasp the relationship between relationships. This meta-ability goes by many names — systems thinking, gestalt thinking, holistic thinking. I prefer to think of it simply as seeing the big picture.”

We call the businesspeople who see the big picture visionaries who can integrate and imagine how the pieces go together. All great entrepreneurs, according to Michael Gerber, are Systems Thinkers.

And talking about systems. Daniel Kahneman labeled the fast, instinctive and emotional "System 1" and the slower, more deliberative, and more logical "System 2." For a deeper dive on our two modes of thought, read Thinking Fast and Slow where Kahneman provided research and information on the cognitive biases associated with each.

 

[mind map courtesy of Steve Richards]