Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Short Conversation With Dan Pink (That Might Affect Your Future)

Dan Pink wrote two of my favorite books of the last several years--A Whole New Mind and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Both are business books but they start to move into that overlap between business, personal effectiveness, and happiness.

Drive, the more recent of the two, discusses how the ways we're motivated are different than the ways our employers would like to think. Companies want to provide incentives for more work or, even more importantly, for more successful work. But for the mostly right-brained work that more of us are actually doing now, studies show that incentive pay actually hurts rather than helps our performance. Pink says what really motivates us is autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

The book that got me even more, though, was Dan's previous one, A Whole New Mind. If you've read this blog you know that one thing that I talk about a lot is the different roles of the left and right hemispheres of the brain in our own happiness. We think that getting all the stuff that the left brain wants will make us happy, but happiness as an experience is mostly a right brain phenomenon.

Dan takes it beyond just happiness. His theory is that our society is quickly evolving to a point where left-brained skills will no longer be valued. Skills that can be reduced to a process, like accounting, tax preparation, purchasing, and so on, will be either automated or outsourced to cheaper locations, just like manufacturing was in the eighties and nineties. When his book came out in 2005 this was still a pretty radical concept, but we've certainly seen it play out. TurboTax, anyone? And when's the last time you talked to a US-based human being when you called customer service?

Pink's theory is that what's being valued now are the nonlinear skills that reside in the right brain--mainly those related to interpersonal connection, creativity, and big picture thinking. His point is that to compete in the future, we all have to refine those skills, and the way to do that is to activate the right brain a lot more than we currently do.

Much of the book includes exercises to engage the right brain, but one topic that it mentions only briefly is meditation and contemplative practice. I contacted Dan to ask about that (we had met at a conference in DC last year).

This is what I heard back--

Yoga, meditation, and the like are hugely important in engaging the right hemisphere. in fact, I think that's one reason they've become so much more popular in the west than they were, say, 15 or 25 years ago.  There's something big going on with this broad movement, and most people -- especially those in business -- haven't quite grokked that. 

So if you need another reason to meditate, it's not just about happiness anymore. It might just determine whether you can succeed in the new economy.

What are your feelings about meditation, yoga, tai chi and other disciplines? What role do they play in your life right now?


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