Exercising A Whole New Mind: Meaning


photo courtesy of Fabio Marim

Meaning is the last of Dan Pink’s six senses for the Conceptual Age.  Pink has to walk a tightrope here between spirituality and organized religion.  For many of us, as we age and have kids, the “why are we here?” question looms larger.  And surprise, surprise, if employees feel like their work is meaningful it becomes more rewarding and they become more productive.

I was surprised to see Labyrinths covered.  My mum, proving again how prescient she can be,  got into them about 5 years ago, and I had no idea what the appeal was.  She even launched a directory to Australian labyrinths. Don’t confuse them with mazes.  Mazes offer one right direction and many wrong ones and the goal is to get out.  Labyrinths are all about the journey: you walk in a spiral and reflect.

This important topic includes some really good exercises:

  • Say Thanks: being grateful increases contentment and happiness.  David Freudberg has covered this on HumanKind.  Don’t just save it up for Thanksgiving.  I’ve tried to think of one thing to be grateful for once-a-day for the last 3 months and it is definitely rewarding to do this.  I like the idea of a birthday list – for every year write down one new thing to be grateful for.
  • Dedicate Your Work: this is a beautiful and simple idea.  If you’re doing something that matters (say a presentation),  make a quiet, genuine dedication to someone that matters to you.
  • 20-10 Test: Jim Collins suggests you ask yourself two questions: If you had $20 million in the bank, OR only 10 years to live, would you be doing what you’re doing now.  I like the time-frame he uses because the die tomorrow would suggest much more radical action that might not be warranted – 10 years is actually plenty of time to do some interesting things, but no so long as to waste another year.
  • Picture Yourself At Ninety: What will your life be like?  What will you have done?  Who will your friends be?  Stephen Covey talked about Leaving a Legacy and thinking about how would you be remembered.  Like the 20:10 test this can help provide focus and motivation on what you should be doing now.
  • Use AND to fix the BUTs: “I’d like to read more, but I can’t find the time” is solved with the addition of “So, I need to get books on tape so I can listen on the go and in the gym”.  Think of all the things you want to be doing, but have a potted excuse for not doing.  Then think of something concrete you can do to make them happen.
  • Take a Sabbath: Check out of email and news for a day per week.  A good way to recharge.  Love him or hate him, Tim Ferriss’ media holiday is actually pretty relaxing – no news for a week.  (Just got completely distracted because the second Google suggestion after Tim Ferriss is Tim Ferriss scam!  This led me too Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist.  I’m going to have to subscribe (and now Inc. has her listed one of top 19 blogs to read) – authentic writing and confirmed many niggles in my head about Mr Ferriss –  a few nuggets of truth amplified in a story and sold as hope.) I had a really great chat, with a buddy on a run, about how the interesting news is the indicators of trends and analysis of trends, not random events like the Balloon Boy or yet another bombing in a country ending in -stan.  On that topic, it’s interesting how The Daily Show is actually a better source of news and news analysis than any of the mainstream news shows.  This sidebar really needs a full post.
  • Check Your Time:  This is revealing and motivating. Keep track of everything you do.  I’ve done this in 1/2 hour blocks for about a month now.  You discover how much time you’re wasting and if you know you have to record that 1/2 hour’s activities at the end of it, it tends to get you back on track.  In case it’s not obvious, you’ll want to turn this off on non-working days, unless you’re trying to make best use of your leisure time or understand how you are using it.

Hopefully this review of the six senses was helpful.  Mr. Pink includes a brief afterword to inspire readers to engage their right brain now in the “age of art and heart”. What exercises will you try?  Could you make your life and work a little richer?

Exercising A Whole New Mind: Play


try to have this much fun!

Kids are so good at play.  Their ability to experience such unadulterated joy just running around and laughing is a pure delight.  We could all do with more of this.  Not only will you live a longer, more enjoyable life, you might actually work better too.

Turns out video games can be good for you too.  The US Army is finding they help with perception, the medical industry is finding they can be used for simulations.

And a little humor can help ease tense situations and help everyone get along.  Who doesn’t like where this is going?

In terms of the exercises, I’m not convinced by the laughter club, the humor scale, or joke dissection. There are many game recommendations but I’m always scared to try new games, because I know if I like it, I’ll end up staying up all night playing it.  He does recommend two specifically for developing the right brain: Right Brain Game and Right Brain Paradise that I would like to look at.

Cartoon Captions: one more reason to subscribe to the New Yorker: playing the captions game.  BTW, about 2 years ago we received a gift subscription with a KQED membership and it soon became one of my favorite magazines – we have been subscribing ever since – the covers are brilliant, the writers are incredible (definitely something to aspire too), and I love the film, TV and book reviews.

Watch Kids Play: this is a winner.  The energy, laughter and joy are infectious (at least until you or they get tired).

Tomorrow we finish the series with Meaning.  I’m also going to post on FailCon as there were some good adds to my 10 Years, 10 Lessons series.

Exercising A Whole New Mind: Empathy


photo courtesy of D. C. Atty

How was your day? It’s all relative, but I bet it was better than this guy’s.    Today is all about empathy.

The most famous design firm, IDEO is huge on this. At FailCon today Brandon Schauer from Adaptive Path was big on this. Empathy is all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Pink writes about the life or death differences in healthcare that empathy can bring.

My favorite exercises:

  • Eavesdrop: listen to nearby conversations and imagine yourself as a protagonist.  Now you have an excuse to eavesdrop at restaurants: “sorry, just exercising my right brain, didn’t mean to intrude”
  • Play “whose life”: this sounds fun – go through someone’s backpack, purse, … (removed of stuff bearing their name) and divine their life.  This section mentions the IDEO Method Cards  – $49 for a bunch of their techniques.  If you get one good idea from one of these techniques its covered the cost.
  • Empathize on the job: Experience a day in the life of your colleagues or customers.  Very illuminating.  I like shadowing.  Pink suggests having people guess their colleagues highs, lows, frustrations and rewards and then have them describe reality.   Results will vary with culture and individuals.
  • Do a home made greeting card: we do this each Christmas.  Its fun and very easy with digital cameras, and shutterfly or Kodak Gallery.  I also like doing calendars because they force you through that exercise of picking the best 12-20 shots for the year, which is a delight because you reflect on what you’ve done and get to see a bunch of photos you didn’t watch when they were first uploaded.

Tomorrow: Play.  Much more upbeat.

Exercising A Whole New Mind: Symphony


drawing courtesy of Craig Spence

Symphony, fortunately, is not about musical ability.  According to Dan Pink its the ability to put together the pieces.  Capabilities such as: find patterns, cross boundaries to bring knowledge from one specialization to another, create metaphors, see the big picture.

My favorite exercises from this list:

  • Hit the Newsstand: buy mags you’ve never noticed before and look for ways to use the content in work or life.  I haven’t tried this, but I definitely want to.  May indeed be confusing for rest of family though…
  • Draw: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the classic by Betty Edwards (I was lucky enough to get this from my mom in my teenage years).  Line drawing is such a meditative in-the-moment exercise – once you start concentrating time flies and you feel quite peaceful once you’re done.  And there’s that pleasure of rediscovering how to draw – you can still do art!  (BTW, the picture above is just one of the exercises, recreating a childhood drawing.  You can see others in Craig Spence’s photostream. You will actually learn to draw well from this book 🙂 ) Thoroughly recommended.
  • Follow the Links:  An argument for random surfing via U Roulette or Random Web Search (as if we don’t do enough of this already – the last thing I need is a right-brain exercise as justification!)
  • Look for Solutions in Search of Problems: could you take a solution and use it somewhere else, or flip the default to make it work?
  • Books: I’ve been wanting to pick up George Nelson’s classic How to See but that puppy is $75 used!  Thanks DWR.
  • Brainstorming: Pink summarizes the IDEO brainstorming technique from Ten Faces of Innovation.  I first tried this out back in 2007 when I was interviewing with IDEO and was working on a new car seat design.  Its amazing: had about 10 friends over and 30 minutes later, 100 novel ideas which you cull later.  The basics: go for quantity over quality,  encourage wild and crazy ideas, defer judgment, and use pictures and change the focus when the ideas slow down.

Tomorrow, time for some Empathy.  Have a good one.

Exercising A Whole New Mind: Story

photo courtesy of Nufkin

photo courtesy of Nufkin

The second of Dan Pink’s six right brain senses is Story.

Chip and dan Heath convinced me of the importance and power of Story in Made to Stick which I thoroughly recommend as a handbook for creating communication people will remember.  I’m not sure if it is because Pink was a speechwriter and is now a writer, but I find these exercises less attractive.

What’s your 50-word story? Some of the other ideas I’m not personally motivated to try: enlist in StoryCorps, tape record a friend or relative’s story, got to a storytelling festival, subscribe to OneStory, try telling a digital story, read texts on storytelling.  There are a few fun ideas here though:

  • Write a mini saga: 50 words long on your life or something that happened. Henry Olson introduced me to this great quote from Blaise Pascal: “I am sorry for the length of my letter, but I had not the time to write a short one.” Editing 2000 words down to 1000 is actually more time consuming than writing the 2000 words.  50 words really focuses your attention on just what’s important
  • Riff on opening lines: at a party, throw a bunch of opening lines from books into a bowl and draw cars and construct stories from them.  I’ve played a very fun variant where one person reads the description on the back of a book, then writes down the first sentence.  Everyone else makes up a first sentence.  The real and made up lines are thrown into a bowl, read out loud, and you have to guess which is the real one.  Very amusing.
  • Play Photo Finish: similar but show pictures and have people come up with a story.
  • “Who Are These People?”: look at people in public and try to make up a life story for them.

If you want to learn how to write more memorable stories, go with the Heath brothers’ advice, if you want to learn how to write well, then Pink’s suggestions are useful.  I’m surprised he doesn’t mention blogs or writer’s festivals.

Tomorrow we look at symphony.  Fortunately its not just about music.

Exercising A Whole New Mind: Design

photo from Wired posted by Wiley Chin

photo from Wired posted by Wiley Chin

I’ve just finished Dan Pink’s, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future. As a right-brainer who woke up a few years ago realizing how I’d been neglecting my creative side, and that I needed to re-engage it to increase my personal well-being, I was both thrilled at the prospect of the ascendance of the Conceptual Age (replacing the Information Age) and motivated to accelerate the role of the right brain in my life.

One of the great aspects of Pink’s book is the Portfolio section at the end of each of the Six Senses of the Conceptual Age: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning, to complement the left-brain predilections for Function, Argument, Focus, Logic, Seriousness, and Accumulation respectively.  Why these are the right six senses he doesn’t explain (no doubt frustrating to left-brainers), but they certainly feel like a good list. After describing each sense he provides a host of practical exercises you can undertake to engage them. I’m not going to review the book itself in great detail, as that is readily available elsewhere. Instead I’ll focus on sharing the results of my experiences with these Portfolio activities, which may be helpful for others interested in upping the role of the right brain in their lives.  There’s a lot of experiments for each sense, so I’m going to break this into six posts.

Review Summary: I Loved It (But I’m Biased)
Clearly I’m pre-disposed to believe the central thesis, which I find to be self-evident. For left-brain cynics Pink has a whole chapter of evidence. For those who think in black and white (as opposed to my preferences for shades of gray) I’d stress that he’s not saying there is no place for the left-brain, and that’s precisely why he called it A Whole New Mind. Pink is arguing that more use of right-brain skills will be more highly valued in the new world order. There will still be bankers and accountants. And anyone who can combine both will have the potential to enjoy the best of both worlds.

In terms of the book itself, Pink writes extremely well and/or has a fabulous editor. It’s a very easy read, well-structured, peppered with humor, and absent the frustrating, endless repetition typical of so many business books.

Portfolio Review: Testing the Senses

None of these will turn you into a creative guru overnight.  I see them really as just fun exercises that help you to re-connect with the right brain and find what works for you.  Turn what you like into a habit and forget the rest.


  • Design Notebook: use to note good and bad design. Great training for the eye. I’ve already accumulated some blog topics on this one.
  • Channel Your Annoyance: sketch up a solution to bad design and mail to manufacturer. I’m going to try this with yoghurt tubes, juice boxes, and gym equipment. It’s quite cathartic to determine what annoys you and actually do something about it
  • Read Design Magazines: As a retired architect, I already subscribe to a range of architectural porn including Metropolis and Dwell. I think Pink forgot Sunset which is a delight for all the senses. I miss Real Simple for its overwhelming sense of calming layout and life organization (the magazine, not the website!), but I found it was just too overtly targeted at women, which was a little alienating –  maybe its time to see if this has changed.
  • Be Like Karim: excerpts from Karim Rashid’s manifesto are immensely appealing – to a generalist, starting with “#1. Don’t specialize” was a breath of fresh air in a world that overly favors specialization. I loved “Know everything about your profession and then forget it all when you design something new.” and “Normal is not good”
  • Participate in the “Third Industrial Revolution” – create a product tailored just for you.  Used NikeiD once for Christmas which was very popular.  Quite like doing custom t-shirts, calendars etc for gifts.   For 3-D design I’m really excited about the falling cost of design software (e.g. Google SketchUp) and availability of 3-D printing for prototypes.
  • C-R-A-Pify Your Design – a few minor hints on cleaning up the visual appearance of materials you develop – we’ll have to talk about PowerPoint’s another day – huge topic.  Once you know what look for cleaning up a PowerPoint is actually pretty easy. Start with consistent colors and fonts and alignment of elements on a page. Removing all the unnecessary slides, removing all the crap from the slides and endless bullets is key. Strongly recommend Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen and Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology.

What experiments have you tried and with what results?