Interview With Daniel H. Pink, Author Of “A Whole New Mind” And “Free Agent Nation”
For those who have been following the development of this blog, you are probably beginning to realize that I really enjoy talking to people about their ideas and passions and really figuring out what makes them tick. Even though this is a blog devoted to exploring the business world, mainly in the Conceptual Age, I still enjoy talking to people about faith, family, and life. Any routine readers will probably also know I have been greatly influenced recently by Daniel H. Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future“, hence the whole idea of exploring business in the Conceptual Age.
So, despite Dan’s hectic schedule he has kindly taken the time to let me grill him via an email correspondence and here is what he had to say:
Justin: You recently came back from Japan. Can you tell us what you learned about Japanese business as well as personal cultural lessons you were exposed to that can be applied in the western world? In general and in the context of the Conceptual Age?
Dan: Wow. That’s a big question. I guess the two big takeaways were these. First, the commitment to quality — in all respects — is pretty staggering. Whether it’s in a retail setting, where the clerks are incredibly attentive and helpful, or riding a taxi cab, where the drivers wear white gloves, there’s an attention to detail and excellence that is breathtaking. Western companies would do well to heed these lessons. Second, Japan, for all its innovations, remains slightly constrained by convention. It’s much less diverse than anywhere in the U.S. And in general, it has less of an appetite for risk — both at the individual and company level. It seems the best approach for any venture is a combo platter — Japan’s quality-consciousness paired with America’s willingness to experiment and (sometimes) fail.
Justin: It’s been a couple of years since “A Whole New Mind” was first published. Have your ideas “morphed” in any way? Do you feel any other paradigm shifts in the near future or do you feel the Conceptual Age is still in its early phases?
Dan: If anything, I see even more evidence than I did a couple of years ago. The reaction to these ideas from companies has been surprising. I expected to get into arguments about whether the ideas were right. Instead, the reaction has been, “Okay. We get it. What should we do now?”
Justin: Can you give us some specific examples as to how you have applied the six aptitudes to your personal and professional life?
Dan: Taking a drawing class fundamentally and permanently changed the way I see. Studying design has made me a much, much more astute observer of this aspect of business. And I’m working mightily to improve my empathic skills. I’ve dramatically improved my ability to read facial expressions — and I’m trying to be a better, more attentive listener.
Justin: One of the books you recommended reading, “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl as well as a conversation I had yesterday with Eric Reynolds, founder of Nau and advocate for social change made me look at the six aptitudes in a slightly different way. I see now a hierarchy of aptitudes with Meaning and Social Purpose at the top. I would separate the area of Spirituality from Meaning and have it as its own aptitude while looking at meaning from an “earthly”, social perspective. I would then add Sustainability as an aptitude that could be integrated into the other five. It would affect any decisions made as a result of applying the other aptitudes. Any decision that is not sustainable in every sense of the word is not an effective application of the respective aptitude. In light of the huge interest in environmental sustainability at the moment, and the innovative decision by Nau to incorporate sustainability into every facet of their company’s operations, how would you respond to this?
Dan: Interesting idea. I guess I generally agree. Sustainability has become a fundamental issue in business today — and, as you say, it’s tightly linked to Meaning (as well as to Design.)
Justin: What did you learn about the manga industry while in Japan? Could you apply those lessons to different types of industry in the West? What’s next?
(You’ve probably seen this already, but just in case you haven’t there is an interesting article discussing how the two top American comic book publishers are now aiming to attract female fans after being inspired by the manga phenomenon. Here it is.)
Dan: The answer to this question is in a magazine article and book I’m now writing. No sneak previews! Sorry!
Justin: Could you list for us the 10 most influential books (in terms of the development of your ideas and philosophies) you’ve ever read?
Dan: That’s a hard question to answer. I tend to pull nuggets out of many books — rather than having a handful of books that serve as guiding lights. I’d put MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING on the list as well as FLOW, FUTURE SHOCK, and THE ORGANIZATION MAN. But again, I usually don’t see a straight line from a particular book I read to the material I produce. It’s much murkier and chaotic than that.
Justin: Do you know of any businesses that have applied the six aptitudes in a way that has had a positive impact on ROI and/or has had a positive social impact?
Dan: Many companies have used principles consonant with the ideas in the book to perform at a high level: Apple, P&G, Best Buy, and GE. I don’t have any illusions that CEOS are issuing marching orders from the pages of A WHOLE NEW MIND. But I do think that if you look at those companies, you’ll find a concerted effort to use some of the six abilities to differentiate from competitors and to drive performance.
Justin: There was an interesting article in the the Wall Street Journal on June 2 by Ellen Gamerman, entitled “Outsourcing Your Life” discussing the next phase in outsourcing: outsourcing personal tasks in the home. Personally I think this is bizarre. I’d like to here your thoughts on this and what it could mean in the future.
Dan: It’s possible. Think of all the personal tasks that people have automated — dishwashing, laundry, and so on.
Justin: How would you go about applying the six aptitudes in the case of yound people developing a “personal brand” in preparation to begin their careers in the Conceptual Age?
Dan: I think the more important task for a young person than developing a personal brand is figuring out what she’s great at, what she loves to do, and how she can use that to leave an imprint in the world. Those are tough questions, but essential ones. Answer those — and the personal brand follows.
Justin: Any hints as to what you’re up to next?
Dan: I’m working on two books. One should be out next year. The other, with any luck, will be out the year after that. Both are very much in the vein of and A WHOLE NEW MIND — big-idea business books with a twist.
Thanks Dan for your continued insight into these important business ideas! Looking forward to your coming books!