Friday, January 16, 2009

Right Brained World?

I just finished listening to an interview with Daniel Pink about his book, New York Times bestseller A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. This book looks at our changing world economy and how that impacts our careers.  I work on career issues with many adults with Asperger’s and autism, individuals typically considered to have strengths as left brained thinkers, so the premise of this book was fascinating.
Pink was interviewed by Oprah on her Soul Series, but don’t let that scare you if you’re not an Oprah and spirituality fan. The interview is about more than spirituality, including business and economics as well. Pink uses the left brain, right brain idea as a metaphor to compare systematic, logical thinking (a “left brain” function) and more creative, big picture ideas (a “right brain” function.). Pink, a self described left-brain thinker, theorizes that our changing world means that we’re moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Those individuals who excel at more right brained functions, which Pink terms the senses of design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning, (and conversation, which Pink adds in the interview) will succeed professionally and personally. Much of this change is brought about by the growing abilities to outsource or automate any career that’s highly systematic. Pink uses examples such as accounting and law, while I thought instantly of my former career as a Semiconductor Packaging Engineer. (Try to find one of those employed in the US!)
For those in the autism field, Pink’s book may bring to mind the theories of Simon Baron-Cohen in The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth About Autism. Baron-Cohen refers to the male, systemizing brain and the female, empathizing brain, and the idea that autism and Asperger’s may correlate to an extremely high level of systemizing, coupled with a low level of empathizing.
Does Pink’s theory warn of looming disaster for professionals with Asperger’s and autism? To my thinking, only on the surface. It is an alert to all of us, on the spectrum or not, to keep growing and learning. We all need to build on our innate strengths, while paying attention to and strengthening those areas where we don’t excel. Professional success, as always, depends on the ability to adapt to change. Also, the Asperger’s/autism strengths in thinking outside the box are probably a key to success in this new environment. Listen to the interview and see what you think.