New-age Skills for Success in the Platform World

“Lawyers. Doctors. Accountants. Engineers. That’s what our parents encouraged us to become. They were wrong. Gone is the age of “left-brain” dominance. The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers — creative and emphatic “right-brain” thinkers whose abilities mark the fault-line between who gets ahead and who doesn’t.”
~ Daniel Pink in ‘A Whole New Mind’, 2006

In today’s platform world, three prevailing trends – Abundance, Asia, and Automation, are setting the stage for a future that belongs to a very different kind of person, with a very different kind of mind.

Abundance: We live in an era where living standards are significantly higher than in the past, and material goods are increasingly abundant. In an age with a multitude of choices, one’s offering or contribution will likely be redundant.

Asia: Outsourcing jobs to overseas knowledge workers, particularly from Asia – has resulted in significant cost savings for companies. A majority of the Fortune 500 companies outsource their software work to India.

Automation: Machines are taking over routine, repeatable tasks otherwise carried out by human workers – and with greater speed and efficiency.

The collective impact of these three trends makes the skillsets of today’s workforce redundant. Daniel Pink, in his 2006 book ‘A Whole New Mind’ posits that we are moving from an era of “left-brain” dominance (Information Age) to an era where “right-brain” qualities will be critical for professional success and personal fulfillment (Conceptual Age). Skills that were highly valued during the Information Age – such as subject matter expertise, analytical thinking and logical reasoning, are necessary but no longer sufficient. In today’s Conceptual Age, new business models are based on platform ecosystems that require big picture thinking and creativity, and must drive socioeconomic value rather than merely economic value. The only way forward is to complement left-brain reasoning with the conceptual and creative capabilities of the right brain. The reasoning power of the left brain is already a capability computers possess, and automation is taking over activities guided by the left hemisphere of the human brain.

Going forward into the Conceptual Age, right-brain skills will be key. The best employees of the future will be those who exhibit higher order thinking and creative problem solving, while also being empathetic towards others. In his book, Pink outlines the six essential high-concept and high-touch aptitudes required for the new-age workforce to thrive in a platform world.

Design: The ability to move beyond function to create something that is attractive, beautiful and emotionally engaging. Pink explains that design is “utility, enhanced by significance”. For example, designing a brochure that is easy to read is utility, but designing a brochure that conveys ideas or emotions that words themselves cannot convey is significance.

Story: The ability to create a compelling and engaging narrative beyond data and facts. Pink describes story as “context, enriched by emotion”. He says that with data and facts becoming widely available and instantly accessible, what begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. Businesses across the globe are increasingly harnessing the power of storytelling to convey messages that resonate with their audiences.

Symphony: The ability to move beyond focus on details, to see the bigger picture. Pink explains symphony as the ability to identify relationships among seemingly diverse and unrelated pieces to form an interesting new whole.

Empathy: The ability to put oneself in another’s shoes and intuit what that person is feeling. It involves an understanding of the non-verbal cues of others, which is an indicator of their emotions.

Play: The ability to bring humor and light-heartedness to work, and not just seriousness. Pink explains that humor is a sophisticated form of intelligence that can’t be replicated by computers and that is becoming increasingly valuable in today’s Conceptual Age.

Meaning: The ability to develop a spiritual quotient beyond accumulation of material wealth, and pursue deeper meaning in life. Pink explains that while materialism and abundance has freed people from day to day struggles and drastically improved living standards, life satisfaction hasn’t budged. The search for meaning or purpose in life is more important than ever in the Conceptual Age.

To thrive in today’s Conceptual Age, one must nurture right brain capabilities, and develop expertise across multiple areas guided by both hemispheres of the brain. Jobs of the future will require a combination of left-brain and right-brain directed skills. For instance, Pink explains that engineers and programmers will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence, more on trait knowledge than technical manuals, and more on fashioning the big picture than sweating the details.

“The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”
~ Daniel Pink


Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, 2006

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