Dan Pink: “We are our stories”

“We are our stories. We compress years of experience, thought, and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell ourselves. That has always been true. But personal narrative has become more prevalent, and perhaps more urgent, in a time of abundance, when many of us are freer to seek a deeper understanding of ourselves and our purpose.” ~ Dan Pink, A Whole New Mind 

[Credit for header photo of Dan Pink: “Danielpink2” by DhpmcculloughtCC BY-SA 3.0]

A Whole New MindI am currently using A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (Riverhead Books, 2006) as the main text for a college creative thinking class (thank you to my friend and colleague, Katie, for the suggestion). My challenge in this class is to capture the attention of very busy engineering students long enough to convince them that reawakening their creativity can improve not only their quality of work but, more important, their quality of life. Throughout the years, I’ve tried several other, more traditional textbooks for the course, but A Whole New Mind is, hands down, the most inspiring and effective resource I’ve found (and, as a bonus, it’s easy on the students’ pocketbooks and backpack loads!).

The book is highly useful for writers, not only because of its overall creative perspective and inspiration but also for the chapter on “Story,” which stresses the importance of a narrative sense in our new Conceptual Age. Story is one of the six “high-touch and high-concept aptitudes” or senses that Pink says are crucial for the age in which we live:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

Yesterday I shared this TED Talk by Jonathan Harris with the class, which offers a creative perspective on story-telling and, at the same time, incorporates Pink’s other five senses as well:

Once you read A Whole New Mind, you will see the six senses in play everywhere. For example, the chapter on Design offers reasons for why “improving the design of medical settings helps patients get better faster,” an idea used in the promotional campaign by a recently re-designed local hospital:

One of my favorite and, I think, most successful class assignments is to have students interview someone they know personally—friend, family member, classmate, teacher—and apply the principles of creativity we have explored in class in a written profile of their subject. When I read the students’ newfound perspectives on and appreciation of a girlfriend’s empathy or a father’s knack for story-telling, a mother’s ability to synthesize ideas or a sibling’s sense of humor, I know that the principles of the book had taken hold.

The subtitle of the book is a bit misleading, because Pink resists the black-and-white distinction between left-brainers and right-brainers and, instead, writes about L-Directed thinking and R-Directed thinking, arguing that L-Directed thinking (“sequential, literal, functional, textual, and analytic”) is important but “no longer sufficient.” We must now supplement L-Directed thinking with R-Directed thinking (“simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual, and synthetic”). The best news is that R-Directed thinking skills are ones we can learn and become better at, and the book offers many examples, techniques, and resources for further exploration

Dan Pink’s website offers much more information about A Whole New Mind (including discussion guides for business and educators), as well as his more recent Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and the graphic novel Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need, written in the style of manga. I would also encourage you to watch his TED Talk on The Surprising Science of Motivation and the delightful RSA Animate video on the same topic.

The last video I want to share here, however, is less formal. In it, Pink discusses the journey he took from being a lawyer to a political speech writer to the “dark night of the soul” that led to his doing what he does now. The quotation at the top of this post is from the interview, in response to a question about finding one’s passion:

“I find that question very daunting. What’s your passion? I find that almost paralyzing, in a way. I find it less paralyzing to say, ‘What are you interested in doing next?’”

This post is an updated version of a review first published in April 2011 on Everyday Intensity.

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