Revenge of the right brain | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 19, 2024

A major shift is happening inside our brains.

Marco Visscher | May 2005 issue

Management guru Peter Drucker was the first to see it. Back in the 1960s he predicted the emerging dominance of “knowledge workers:” people who get paid for their analytical and theoretical knowledge rather than for their manual skills, physical strength or personality traits. And the good news was that anyone could do it—as long as they took their school studies seriously. This resulted in a huge rise in the number of “techies,” professionals, specialists and so forth.

But the world is now changing again, it appears. The logical and analytical skills that continue to form the basis of Western economies is slowly shifting, according to the savvy American business observer Daniel Pink in Wired (February 2005). The current “information age”—in which access to information (read: knowledge, education) is the most important economic engine—is changing into the “conceptual age,” characterized by a new concern with context, patterns and emotion. And that shift is taking place mainly in our brains.

Scientists have been aware for some time that our brains have two sides, or hemispheres. Analytical, logical, and linear thinking are done in the left side of the brain. The right side comes into play when you are engaged in creating, making connections, or expressing emotions. Although the human brain is a highly complex system—100 billion cells make one quadrillion connections every second—this simplifying left/right dichotomy is generally accepted among brain scientists. And it provides insight into the direction that Western society and the global economy are moving: a shift from examining small parts to looking at the larger whole, from cold logic to engaged empathy, from masculine to feminine talents. In other words, from left to right.

To prove his theory, Pink points to three macro trends that will encourage us to make greater use of the right half of our brains: outsourcing, computerization and abundance.
* Like blue collar workers in past decades, knowledge workers are now seeing their jobs disappear overseas. The work of computer programmers and telephone helpdesks is already being transferred to Asia and, to a lesser extent, African countries like Kenya. And it goes further. In India, accountants are examining U.S. tax forms, lawyers are researching American law cases and radiologists are reading CAT scans from Western hospitals. Routine work like this can be done much more cheaply and quickly in Asia and Africa. This creates a sense of panic among professional workers, but also new opportunities for more creative careers. As the left-brain work migrates to developing countries, many workers in the West will find that their jobs depend more on personal skills and other right-brain traits. Accountants can become personal financial advisors. Programmers can design much more intricate information systems. Bankers can master the art of closing a business deal.
* In the last century we saw how machines replaced muscle power in the job market, and now we will see new technology take over many of the tasks of the left brain. Just take a look at, where you can apply for a no-fault divorce for $ 249 U.S. (190 euros), less than one-tenth the cost of doing it through a lawyer. The internet is quickly eroding the monopoly on knowledge that has long contributed to lawyers’ high incomes and mystique. On you can find the legal framework for a will or contract for next to nothing—documents that were previously found only on lawyers’ hard drives. Now you don’t have to hire an attorney for 10 hours but for one hour at most, enough time for him or her to read through the document you’ve filled in at home. This means lawyers can—and must—distinguish themselves with talents that stretch further than what the internet can provide: mediating a dispute, convincing a judge, providing more insight into the subtlety of negotiations. The same situation applies to financial traders who will never be as fast, cheap and efficient as a computer. As a result, some of them will develop into advisors who can key into the wishes and dreams of their clients: work for which the right half of the brain is essential.
* Many people in the West are now living with unprecedented wealth. And large numbers of them are opting for more than traditional material accumulation. Some want products that are special, designer-quality or hand-made, but many are interested in acquiring experiences more than goods. Explain that to the left brain! People continue to seek broader meaning in their lives: consider how yoga and meditation have moved from the spiritual fringes of society to becoming a major part of many people’s daily lives. This offers more evidence of the ascendancy of the right brain.

“We’ve progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now we’re progressing yet again—to a society of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers,” writes Pink in Wired. He recently wrote a book on the subject. A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (Riverhead Books, ISBN 1573223085).

The left brain isn’t becoming superfluous, he notes, but it is no longer all we need to get ahead. Pink explains that the dawning Conceptual Age requires “the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities. It involves the capacity to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.”

Fancy words, perhaps, but we shouldn’t be daunted. After all, our ancestors didn’t spend all day inserting figures into spreadsheets or crack codes. They told stories to one another and connected in many other ways; they solved intricate problems involving context and problems to simply survive. These right brain traits are fundamental human talents that just need a little polishing.

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