Spotlight

Daniel Pink: A Whole New Mind

Daniel Pink is a diversified thinker whose intellectual and emotional understanding of the world resulted in the writing of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

His book charts the rise of right-brain thinking in modern economies and explains the six abilities individuals and organizations must master in an outsourced and automated world. A Washington-based contributing editor at Wired magazine and independent business consultant, Pink sees the world as it is and can be.

Pink worked in the White House as chief speechwriter for Vice President Albert Gore from 1995 to 1997. He also has worked as an aide to Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

Pink will be the keynote speaker at the 3rd General Session at the AASA National Conference on Education in New Orleans in March.

He was recently interviewed by Donna McCaw.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 being highest, how would you rate the performance of U.S. schools in readying learners for the global job market? And what do we need to do to get to a 4?

Pink: That varies greatly from place to place, but I think on average public education would get a 1.5.

At one level it requires thinking about education in an entirely new way. So much of education within this country has been focused on routines and right answers. That approach has a number of different weaknesses: It doesn’t teach the whole child, and it leaves a lot of human potential underdeveloped.

At another level it is dangerous because it is not what the economy has been. Schools obviously have a function broader than simply preparing people to take their places in labor markets. They have a role of helping educate children to become citizens. On that particular dimension, preparing kids for becoming economically productive members of society, it’s fundamentally flawed because our economy, the American economy, the Canadian economy, the western European economy, the Japanese economy is less and less about routines and right answers.

Routines and right answers are commodities. They are essentially free, anybody can do them, therefore they have zero or almost zero economic value. Whereas the ability to think, being able to be creative, to empathize with others, to tell a story, to listen to other people’s story; being adept at design, at connecting the dots, at recognizing patterns, at pursuing a life of purpose — those are not just the things that are going to enrich the young people as human beings, but those are the types of things that our children are going to be doing for a living. So there is a sort of double whammy flaw in this routines and right answers obsession being used right now by many public school regimes.
We are on the brink of perfecting the industrial-age model school now that we are leaving the information age.

Q: So how do we move to that paradigm?

Pink: Well, I think it is difficult and not that difficult. In my experience, teachers and principals get this. A lot of them are doing the rogue work of trying to navigate their way through a very, very challenging campaign of legislators, state and federal. I think legislators don’t have a fricking clue about what is going on inside of schools. They are basically engaged in a form of press release politics where they feel if they do something, anything involving schools, they can then put it on TV or issue a press release about it and their job is done. I actually think that many of them are violating the political Hippocratic Oath by actually doing some harm through the things they are proposing for schools.

The other thing is parents. They have a role in this too, in recognizing how much the economy is fundamentally changed. Telling your kid today to be an accountant, doing routine work, or being an engineer doing routine work is like telling your kid in Ohio in the 1970s, “just go get a job in a factory — everything will work out all right.” It is fundamentally flawed advice.

Our parents as well need to shake off the legacy of what they learned and recognize that their kids are living in a fundamentally different world and will be operating in a fundamentally different labor market — the reward of a very different set of abilities.

Q: It’s difficult to get people to believe that teaching to the whole child will not only result in higher test scores, learners better prepared for employment, and a country of happier people. How do we get them to pay attention to the fact that the world is changing and that our children need to be prepared for a world vastly different than anything they can imagine?

Pink: You need to keep repeating it, repeating it, repeating it. Going out and making the case. Going out and making the case. Going out and making the case. This is why maybe after 1,000 times someone might say, “Hey, I think he is trying to tell me something.”

I do believe in my gut there are more people today in the choir saying the same thing. There is a shift that has been noticed by many individuals, but it scares people. The schools we are talking about look different, they feel very different. When we undergo rapid change people tend to cling even tighter to the known. They become nostalgic and schools are about as nostalgic as you can get.

Q: How would you describe the heart of a global citizen?

Pink: Each child would recognize that he is important in his own right and understand how he (or she) is connected to a broader society. That society includes the people in their own country, most of whom they will never know, in addition to the billions of individuals in other countries to whom they are also connected. The more you understand this array of diversity and responsibility, of opportunity and performance, of connectedness to others and to the planet, the greater your demonstrated ability to succeed in this world.

Q: Are there any thoughts you would like to share with every superintendent in this country?

Pink: First, our kids are not going to be doing routine technician white-collar work. They are going to be doing work that requires greater degrees of artistry, empathy and big-picture thinking. They will be doing high-concept work, high-touch work, not so much high-tech work. If we start training these little automatots, training these technicians, you are doing these kids a horrific disservice, both at the human level and at the level of being able to flourish in the economy.

The other thing is, and I think superintendents get this, there is incredible power in intrinsic motivation. This power is overlooked throughout society, schools being no more guilty than anybody else. There is a power when people are able to find out what they are good at and do it. Do what they do out of a sense of joy and talent, rather than in pursuit of some kind of external award. I found that people who are intrinsically motivated are happier, more productive, perform better and contribute more.

To the extent that schools can, they need to model, encourage and support the development of each kid’s intrinsic motivation. When you do so, you are doing those kids a powerful service as well as society as a whole.

Q: Any thoughts about the whole accountability movement?

Pink: I am actually sympathetic to the movement. Some schools are so pathetic, despicable, disgraceful, especially those found in areas of high poverty. Someone needs to hold their feet to the fire. The general principle of accountability is very good — it’s just what are they accountable for?

The accountability is flawed in a number of ways. They are measuring only the left-brain abilities and not the right-brain abilities. Secondly, and probably more importantly, they are measuring them at the level of the school rather than the level of a child. Parents care about the aggregate numbers of a school, but even more so, they care about how their own kid is doing.

Under No Child Left Behind, the unit of analysis is the school. Therefore the reward or penalty system is not at the level of the child. When this happens you have individuals who are gaming it. You have schools that discourage lower-performing students from attending on test days, making sure they are above the required number of attendees. You have teachers who are basically spending all of their time getting kids prepared for the test because that is what their own reward scheme is about.

Current accountability has a very narrow kind of a regime with all kinds of unintended consequences. They are accountable for the wrong things, putting their limited resources into the wrong things, rather than developing brain power as well as interpersonal and intra-personal power.

It takes time for change to happen. The more people who are talking about it the better, but this is a big ship and it takes time to turn it. I am somewhat optimistic the ship will turn because more of these conversations are happening. I also believe the pace is picking up a little bit. I have been heartened by recent columns in print, conversations in meetings, and a growing sense of understanding and urgency.

It also doesn’t change in a linear way. It goes slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly and you turn around and it actually has made its turn.