CommonGround is an ongoing exploration of the intersections between information, technology and design, supported by the iSchool and VPA.

 If we learned anything from Steve Jobs, it is the power of design.  Design is becoming the differentiating factor for many businesses, as evidenced by Apple’s overwhelming success.  The growing power of design is discussed in Daniel H. Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind.”   In this book, Pink predicts the rise of the right-brain thinker.

According to Pink, computers allow for the automation of the more left-brained skills, such as number crunching, that have been highly valued until this point.  Instead, Pink posits that success will now be based on six aptitudes (or senses): Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.   This shift is bringing on a new age, an age “animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life.”  This new age values “the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new.”

The beauty of this book is that the author does more than herald the dawn of the age of the right brain; he includes activities for developing these skills.  Most of us could use a little help engaging this part of our mind, and Pink gives us some by devoting a section to each of the six senses he identifies and including a list of activities the reader can do to develop that sense.  Here are a few examples.  Go ahead and give your right brain a workout:


Carry a small notebook with you.  In the notebook, make notes of examples of great design you come across.    As you start tuning in, you will increase your understanding of design shapes our everyday lives.


Write a mini-saga.   A mini-saga is a fifty-word story (no more, no less).  It should have a beginning, middle, and an end, just like any other story.   Here is one example:

A Dream so Real, by Patrick Forsyth:  Staying overnight with friends, his sleep was disturbed by a vivid dream: a thief broke in, stole everything in the flat – then carefully replaced every single item with an exact replica.  “It felt so real,” he told his friends in the morning.  Horrified, uncomprehending, they replied, “But who are you?”


Learn how to draw.  As Pink describes “drawing is about seeing relationships- and then integrating those relationships into a whole.”    You can take a class in drawing or simply grab a pencil and create a five-line self-portrait (a drawing of yourself using only five lines).


To develop empathy Pink suggests readers engage in some innocent eaves dropping.   As explained by Pink,

Listening to the conversations of those nearby has a bad reputation.  But we all do it, so we might as well make it worthwhile.  Next time you’re in a position to eavesdrop, listen carefully to what your targets are saying.  Then imagine yourself as one of those people in that situation.  What are you (that is, him or her) thinking and feeling at that moment?  What emotions, if any, are coursing through your body?  How did you end up in this particular place at this particular time?


Go to a children’s museum.  Touch stuff.  Interact with the exhibits.  Remember what it feels like to be filled with wonder and curiosity.


Take the 20-10 test.   This exercise was taken from the book Good to Great,  by Jim Collins.   Collins asks people to examine their lives and ask themselves a question:  If you had $20 million in the bank or knew that you had only ten years to live, would you still do what you are doing?   How you answer this question will tell you something about the course you are taking.