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Let’s Hear It for the Lefties – or – Living Left in a Rightie World

New thoughts since the first posting: If you have also read The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman, you might be interested in his magazine interview with Daniel Pink in the American Association of School Administrator’s February 2008 issue.


I get tickled when people notice that I’m left-handed – I’m fond of remarking, “yes, we lefties are the only ones in our right mind!” Now it seems that our time has come… if indeed you believe that being left-handed  means you are  right-brained.Pink\'s 2005 book

In his 2005 book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, author Daniel Pink has given us some news, both bad and good.

The bad news is that people (like my engineer hubby) who earn their living using linear, logical, analytical skills may soon find that demand for their skill sets has waned. In the place of left-brained thinking has risen the need for a set of traits that have historically been  discounted in education and industry. These skills include creativity, empathy, inutition, and the ability to find  relationships among seemingly unrelated objects and events; or as I like to call it: putting the puzzle together without the benefit of the picture on the box.

According to Mr. Pink, a new era is beginning to take shape in the global economy. Called the Conceptual Age, it differs from the previous eras in American history, starting with the Agricultural Age, which gave way to the Industrial Age, which then bowed to the Information Age.  But Pink isn’t the first to notice these shifts. Each of these “ages” closely parallel the societal “waves”  imagined by author Alvin Toffler, in his 1970 book Future Shock.  Toffler presents the Agricultural Age as the First Wave, the Industrial Age as the Second Wave, and the Information Age as the Third Wave.

 Toffler\'s 1970 Book

Early economic eras depended upon a workforce’s ability to provide physical strength and endurance.  The Information Age alludes to the economy’s shift away from the production of goods toward the demand for linear, logical, “left-brained” reasoning. In this world, the central characters have been “knowledge workers” such as engineers, physicians, lawyers, accountants and computer programmers. Smart people.

The Conceptual Age, however is a result of  shifts in the socio-economic climate away from knowledge as a unit of exchange, toward the use of what Pink calls soft, or “high-concept skills” ( the ability to create artistic and emotionally satisfying products, to detect patterns and unexpected opportunities, to conceptualize, to produce convincing written pieces, and synthesize seemingly unrelated ideas into a cohesive whole) and “high touch skills” (being able to empathize, emotional IQ, to engage in the pursuit of purpose and meaning).

What is driving this shift? What is happening that is causing this change, and how will we know when it is here? Most importantly – what does it mean for educators?

In a study released in April by The Conference Board,  Americans for the Arts, and the American Association of School Administrators titled “Ready to Innovate: Are Educators and Executives Aligned on the Creative Readiness of the U.S. Workforce?,” a survey of school superintendants and business executives showed their overwhelming agreement that creativity is growing in its importance to a well-prepared US workforce. The only catch is that the schools don’t seem to be paying attention!

Reads the report: “While creativity is recognized as a critical ingredient to success in the workplace, schools and businesses need to re-examine their curriculums and training programs to determine the most effective way to increase the emphasis on developing this skill. That’s the only true way to effect change and turn out better qualified workers with more creative talents.” “right-brained” are you?  Enough to get the message in Daniel Pink’s book? At least one reviewer in the District Administrator blog, The Pulse thinks it’s “The Worst Book of the 21st Century.” Dr. Gary Stager’s review is not very complimentary – I recommend his critical analysis as a good, thoughtful read. One important pensee, “ways of knowing are not mutually exclusive.” True that.

After all, good, critical thinking is in order here.  Pink claims that the days of straight-laced number crunchers and rigid business analysts are over. To be successful, you will need to develop a new set of skills such as creativity, empathy, systems thinking – all things that teachers know how to do already, right?

But while I appreciate the aesthetic as much as any of you, and lookforward to its return to take over our economy – not to mention the world – I can’t imagine a world without those wildly smart analytical thinkers (they’re scary smart),  like the left-brained, linear, pattern-finding, concept-building, music and art-loving engineer snoozing on the pillow next to me right now.

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