pinkI first read Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind several years ago and loved it. He has some incredibly interesting things to say about how schools can begin to get past the limitations of NCLB.

He starts off his keynote for the TIES conference by suggesting that there are three basic principles of a good speech:

  • brevity
  • levity
  • repetition

I like that. (Both from a participant and presenter viewpoint!)

One of my favorites quotes?

We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.

The rest of the hour was Pink basically going over the stuff from his book. And it’s good stuff. I especially like his idea that education needs to focus more on the right side of the brain.

Quick overview?

In the past, there were very specific pathways to “success” and to the American middle class dream. He suggests that traditional skills and career choices such as lawyer, accountant and engineer led down this path. And the system developed to encourage those abilities.

His argument is that this system is designed for our past but NOT for the future of our kids.

We know more today about how our brains function. We are starting to understand how very complex the brain is and what it can do. Both the left and right sides of the brain are working all the time but, at a broad level, the two sides are also very task specific. Neither is better or worse, just different – content vs context, specific vs. abstract, linear vs. nonlinear.

Pink says these tasks and skills specific to the left brain are essential but are no longer the only thing that is needed. In fact, skills like basic facts and quantitative skills are becoming secondary, they matter less. in the present, and certainly in the future of our kids, we need to focus more on the skills residing in right side of the brain.

He suggests that there are three reasons why this is:

Asia – Obvious Flat World kinds of stuff here / cheap white collar labor is available overseas / His example ? A small percentage of a large number is . . . another large number. So when a small percentage of the large number of people living in Asia start doing the same kinds of jobs that US people are doing . . . a large number of people are able to do the same thing as what we do. Which probably isn’t a good thing

Automation – Software is replacing the left side of our brains but not the artistic, creative side. He used the example of law and how the process of needing a lawyer is changing – specifically how easy it is to complete divorce proceedings and taxes using automated, online tools.

Abundance – The economy is scary now but the broad, overall trend is towards greater abundance. Today’s trends lines, specifically those of technology tools, are almost vertical. I love this – “there was no self storage industry during the 1930s.” Today’s self storage market is bigger than the movie industry, basically we have a lot of stuff.

Basically what he’s saying is the world is different and to have an impact, to survive, we need to use our right brain abilities more. We need to ask three simple questions:

  • Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
  • Can a computer do it faster?
  • Is what you are delivering in demand in an age of abundance?

He didn’t have a lot of time at the end but also suggests that the following six abilities are what matter most. These are the things that are hard to outsource and hard to automate. And so become more valuable in the 21st century world. Interesting stuff!

  • design not just function
  • story not just argument
  • empathy not just logic
  • play not just seriousness
  • meaning not just accumulation
  • symphony not just focus