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Keynote Address: A Whole New Mind

ISM's 93rd Annual International Supply Management Conference

St. Louis, MO
May 2008


Daniel Pink, Best-selling author

As a best-selling author and expert on innovation, competition and the "changing world of work" — and, today, as the Conference keynote speaker — Daniel Pink is a recognizable name not only among readers of The New York Times, Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, where his articles have appeared, as well as Wired, where he is a contributing editor, but also to Conference attendees. In this afternoon's address, Pink discussed key tenets from his latest book, A Whole New Mind, describing in detail some of the reasons right-brainers will rule the future of business.

Pink laid the foundation for his session by sharing what he calls his biggest mistake: going to law school. While it did allow him to meet his wife, Pink has not practiced law a day in his life. "Why did I do that?" he asked the audience.

His answer: Because conventional wisdom told him it would make him successful — and that it would be lucrative. Growing up, he said, this same advice was handed out by parents to their children all over the world. Pink argues that other, right-brained capabilities matter more today.

His beliefs bring to the forefront the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy. The left side of the brain handles logical, linear, sequential tasks — abilities which Pink says will remain "one-hundred-percent, absolutely necessary," but are no longer sufficient on their own.

So, which ones are? Artistic, empathic reasoning capabilities.

Surprisingly, Pink said he considers himself a left-brain type. "I love swimming in data," he admitted. "The second biggest love of my life is charts and graphs." Even so, Pink holds firm to the belief that the future belongs to the right-brainers based on three factors:

Abundance — Currently, there are more cars in the United States than licensed drivers, and 87 percent of households have cell phones compared to 1990, when they practically did not exist. Further evidence of abundance is the $22.6-billion self-storage industry and designer toilet brushes. Today, Pink says, it is no longer enough to fill a need — mainly because there are not many which have yet to be fulfilled. Instead, manufacturers must focus on design.

Asia — Pink referred to six people he met in India, all of whom do computer programming for $15,000 a year. "No one I know in the United States makes less than $60,000 a year doing that job," he said.

Also, he added, India — not America — will be the largest English-speaking country in the world by 2010. To Pink, indicators like this mean offshoring is actually under-hyped in the long run.

Automation — If Pink's predictions are true, software will replace part of our brains — "but what part?" he asked. Obviously, the answer is the logical, linear, sequential left side.

As an example, he showed the audience a $200 online divorce Web site where computerized forms negate the need to visit a real-life attorney at hundreds of dollars an hour. Another example is TurboTax, which for many taxpayers has replaced an in-person consultation with an accountant.

Pink closed by offering a crash course on the six essential right-brain competencies for future success: design, story, sympathy, empathy, play and meaning. All are covered more in-depth in his book, A Whole New Mind.

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