I recently went to a talk at The School of Life, a high-street philosophy faculty running short courses about the important questions of everyday life. It left me thinking and thinking as philosophy intends to.
The session reiterated something I’d picked up on a while ago in Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future. Pink says that subsequent to the Information Age, a new Conceptual Age is emerging and we (the Western world) need to adapt accordingly if we are to continue to thrive. Follows logic really, we didn’t blossom from ancient civilization through to the Industrial Revolution via the Age of Enlightenment without some sort of strife.
So what does this Conceptual Age entail, why has it emerged now and how can we modify ourselves to fit neatly into this Brave New World?
Globalisation and technological advances now mean that something or someone is always out performing or undercutting us and that creativity and resourcefulness rather than analytics are essential in an effort to combat this previously none existent competition. In addition, as a specie, we are no longer fighting for our survival or the accumulation of material wealth and so require services and products that provide holistic experiences and meaning. Pink predicts that in the Western World designers, inventors, counsellors and ethnographers will prosper whilst lawyers’, engineers’ and accountants’ roles will eventually migrate to Asia.
The different skills-sets required to meet the needs of the Conceptual Age here are characterised by the way that the left and right hemispheres of our brain operate. The left is sequential, linear and analytical. The right side is none linear, intuitive and inventive.
Pink argues that although ‘left-brain’ competencies are still necessary, they are no longer sufficient if unaccompanied by their ‘right-brain’ counterparts. Individuals and enterprises that engender skills such as inventiveness, meaning and empathy are therefore more likely to prosper in the new Conceptual era. Pink articulates the concept himself here (if you can ignore the flesh coloured shirt).
Once I’d processed all of this information using my ‘left-brain’ skills, I could see Pink’s point of view and thought ‘now where can I find these so-called ‘right-brain’ skills?’
This was when it dawned on me. It seems we need the skills we don’t have to acquire the ones we now need. We’ve been raised to rely on knowledge, proof and certainty which have, generally speaking, bred out our inventive ‘right-brain’ instincts required to develop ‘right-brain’ skills. Can we simply demote this pre-disposed dependence on information ingrained into the core of who we are?
Apparently we can. This was comforting to learn given my initial despair that we were going to be the next lost civilisation. Pink argues that a portfolio of ‘left and right brain’ competencies reside in all of us, but need ‘nurtured into being’. Great, where do we begin?
The School of Life’s programme is built around these skills and Pink’s book itself provides a road map to navigate this new era. But I still can’t help thinking that something more mainstream needs to be done to avoid our future demise. Are our political and educational leaders aware of this impending change? Are we equipping the next generation to deal with this significant shift to ‘right brain’ thinking? What about the current ‘left-brain’ generation unaware of their impending doom?
Well, we’ve seen these changes start to play out in our own research industry where co-produced and iterative qualitative methodologies are now common place. Researchers form part of the strategy team rather than acting as impartial bystanders who happen to analyse information and provide recommendations. So the ability to provide a narrative appears to be the type of ‘right-brain’ competency that will ensure research professions weather the storm. Phew. So perhaps my initial alarm is overzealous and these types of changes are quite normal when we swing from age to age and enact the survival of the fittest.
Sarah Salisbury, Senior Researcher
The School Of Life was founded by living philosopher Alain De Botton in 2008 and aims to provide a place for people to step back, think intelligently and offers good ideas for everyday living. More information can be found on the website: http://www.theschooloflife.com/
Daniel Pink’s book is called A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future (2006) published by Riverhead Trade