In a recent post, we referred to Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the World. This seminal 2005 work has proven to be amazingly prophetic and many of the author’s unbelievable predictions are proving to be more likely true than to have missed the mark. Pink’s chapter on “Abundance, Asia and Automation” is particularly prescient. He speaks of the dominance of left brain thinking which is leading to its own demise.
The left hemisphere of the human brain is strongest in its capacity to perform analytic, sequential and time based thought. In contrast, the human brain’s right hemisphere’s strength is its ability to provide context, engage in synthesis of competing ideas and emotional expression. For the duration of the Age of Reason, the Industrial Age and the Western Enlightenment, the left brain traits have been revered. The right brain’s strengths have been devalued.
U.S. educational pedagogy has specialized in mechanistic, linear thinking. The Industrial Revolution created a demand for engineers, accountants, lawyers and other left brain supermen. The SAT-ocracy (Pink’s term for the standardized tests bearing acronyms like ACT, MAT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT etc.) assesses educational aptitude in the sequential, analytic and time based exercises of the left brain. Our system of finding, admitting, training and rewarding left brain dominance has produced a culture of success measured by analytic characteristics prominently on display. The same culture has minimized the value of right brain mental processes which are relational, contextual and emotionally connected.
Pink posits that the phenomenal success of promoting left brain thought in our culture, economy and educational settings has ironically insured its death. The incredible productivity of the Western engine of commerce has created phenomenal abundance, lowered costs and made vast product options available to the masses. This abundance leads to significant choice in the market. Pink claims, “Our left brains have made us rich”. (page 34).
Abundance leads to choice which lessens the need to produce more and allows us to enjoy more. Thus, aesthetics, beauty and purpose take on a higher value. Ironically, the powerful success of the left brain culture has allowed us to increase the appreciation of right brain processes. The relational, the artistic and the transcendent assume greater prominence in a culture rich with options.
The amazing capacity of Asian economies and the power of technological automation only accelerate this global shift to right brain values. Our culture’s search for meaning in a materialistically rich environment hastens the enhancement of right brain mental processing. Yoga, mediation and spiritually have enjoyed an increase in popularity “because we can”.
As knowledge work (such as technological services, accounting, law and financial processing) migrates to countries whose economies provide quality service at significantly less costs, the migration of this white collar employment to outsourced (offshore) locations increases and the ability to retain these high paying jobs in the US declines rapidly. In fact, in one industry alone (the law), India has enjoyed a rich influx of opportunity exactly at a time when US legal services are shrinking. In 2008, over $200 million in legal services were provided in India by Indian lawyers being supervised by US lawyers performing legal services for US clients. This revenue doubled to over $400 million in 2009 and is projected to rise to $1.2 billion by 2012. Pink cites a research project by the Forrester group which predicts that by 2015 $135 billion in knowledge work will have left our shores for more economically efficient climates world wide. Where socks, shoes and textiles went, financial services, accounting and legal services are sure to follow.
What does all this have to do with conflict management? Everything! The power of right brain thinking is collaborative (not competitive), relational (not self-serving) and value creating (not value claiming). The global migration to right brain thinking creates significant opportunities for those skilled in helping others search for meaning, purpose and transcendent value in the midst of conflict. Competitive negotiators only know how to split the pie.
Buckle your seat belts, “right-brainers” may not “rule the future” (note the ironic oxymoron?). However, when we become “whole brain” practitioners using the complete mental capabilities of both hemispheres of the human mind, what achievements might be accomplished? The time has come for us to begin to find out.