Thursday, August 25, 2011

Daniel Pink and me

Where I Got to Know Daniel Pink
For the first two weeks of the summer, my daughter had swimming lessons.  Because the lessons were 45 minutes, it wasn't really long enough to go home or run a lot of errands.  Because it rained the almost the whole two weeks, it wasn't really conducive to talking to the other parents who huddled in their cars or walked around with umbrellas, nor was it good for reading.  So I downloaded random educational podcasts and listened to them while I walked around in the rain.  I came across Daniel Pink's ideas through these podcasts.

My friend Anita had always mentioned Pink before, but I guess I wasn't really ready to listen to those ideas as my head was already filled with a bunch of other ideas.  I must have emptied my brain since then because I was a little more receptive to Pink's ideas now and picked up his latest book.  Here's my take.

Everybody Look to the Right
In Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind, he calls for a shift in thinking from the left-brained world (which is analytical and convergent) to a more holistic and creative right-brained world.  Pink says that we have painted ourselves into a corner economically with the 3 As: Automation, Asia, and Abundance.  Through technology and automation, we have basically eliminated low level labour jobs in factories and industry.  Anything that can be reduced to a linear routine can be done by a cheaper, faster, more efficient machine.  This includes assembly lines and tax preparation software.  The second A stands for Asia because jobs such as customer service call centres are outsourced to Asia.  There, the workers are happy to be paid a tenth of what a North American would make for the same job.  Because of Automation and Asia, huge amounts of jobs in North America are going to evaporate.  This problem is going to be exacerbated by the third A: Abundance.  Westerners are used to having lots.  We have more cars, phones, and TVs than we have people in most households.  We have things that we buy and never use or forgot that we even had (see: Costco and dollar stores).  Why?  Because we CAN.  Westerners have become a little flabby and spoiled because of the abundance we have, and unfortunately, we have come to expect to have lots without doing a whole lot of work.  (My take, not necessarily DP's). 

The Six Senses
Pink recommend that the way to steer the ship to avoid the iceberg is to train ourselves to think in terms of the new 6 senses:  Design (the decisions about why things are made the way they are), Story (thinking about things based on their story: their context and origin), Symphony (bringing all elements together to work as a unit), Empathy (being able to think how others might), Play (bringing joy and games into one's life), and Meaning (instead of only chasing the all-mighty buck, what is the purpose of what I am doing?). 

Pink talked about these senses mainly in terms of life and business, but I read the book with an educational lens.  I fully agree with all of the 6 senses he outlines, but I also have some criticisms.  First, the kudos.  Story, Meaning, Empathy and Symphony are resources that should be used more in classrooms.  In fact, all four of these elements work together to provide a rich learning environment.  For example, when I teach history to any grade, I use Stories to teach the events and the important concepts because it provides a context for my students.  They are able to follow the characters through the series of events and see the cause and effect nature of history.  Because the students become emotionally attached to these characters, they Empathize with them and see the events through the players in history.  Through this empathy, students can see how they might react in a similar situation.  Hopefully, through historical events, students can learn how to make their own decisions which gives Meaning to their learning.  And in using Story, Meaning, and Empathy in this way, students use Symphony by bringing all of these parts together to form a unified whole.  I think that most great lessons bring these elements of feeling, meaning, and context together, and are manifested in engagement

Right now, as you probably guessed, the sense I am most interested in is Design, why things are the way they are.  If you read my blog, you can see how this summer, I struggled with a good design for my lapdesks that met all of my needs.  (My friend Z, one of my 3 readers, recommended that I give the laptop design challenge to my students.  But I didn't want them to take away my fun).  I also struggle with my classroom.  I I look at my classroom and it makes me ask myself so many questions based on its design:
  • What do we do here?
  • What is important to us?
  • How do we interrelate with each other?
  • How do we learn?
  • How do we feel about learning?
All of these questions and their answers have an effect on how things look and how we organize things. 

Ironically, Design is one of the criticisms I have of the book.  First of all, the cover of the book is orange.  This makes 3 of the business books I read this year with an orange cover.  I guess the original design intention was for it to stand out, but that is negated if the popular colour is orange.  It's like looking for a Creamsicle in a row of pylons.  (Orange is the new Pink).  And second of all, on the cover, there is a cutout of a boy's head, and when you open the cover, the boy's head turns into a man's head.  Both heads are filled with binary code and musical notes.  I get the message.  The part that bugs me is that cutout gets damaged when you slide the book out from between other books on the shelf.  I checked all 3 copies Chapters had of A Whole New Mind, and all of them had the poor boy's throat almost ripped out.  Cool design gimmick in concept, but not great in reality.  A Whole New Mind might need a whole new chin to go with it. 

The other (minor) criticism I had with the book was about education and Play.  In terms of life, Pink recommends adding more Play to one's life to foster joy and humour.  Pink sees Play as joy, leisure and humour.  As an educator, I see Play as work, as learning.  This idea is not foreign to Daniel Pink.  In his other writings, I heard him talk about managers giving workers the opportunity to play around with ideas.  When kids play, they are trying new ideas, new roles, and new possibilities.  One of the greatest scientists I ever witnessed was my daughter as a baby when she took baths.  She would see what floated and what didn't.  She would seen how many times she could fill containers with a shampoo bottle filled with water (that she knew was full when it stopped bubbling when she held it under water).  We are born with a natural capacity to try to figure out how things work, and that curiosity is shown in our play.  In my previous posts, I talked about how the Exploration Stations I set up explored this idea of learning through play.  I wished DP would have gone a little further with the idea of play, not as release, but as discovery.

My last criticism is more of a comment.  DP recommends that these 6 senses and right-brained thinking are the ways to counteract Abundance, Automation, and Asians.  Okay in terms of Abundance and Automation, maybe a whole bunch (abundance) of computers (automation) don't care and won't read his book, but I'm pretty sure that Asians are probably clued in to the game and will also adopt right-brained thinking and the 6 senses, (and will produce more things and computers to help).  So are westerners ever going to be able to level the playing field?  Maybe only if we return to a resource-based economy.  We'll always need materials to produce things.  Trades will also be important.  If we reduce our abundance, that means our toilets and sinks will have a greater chance of getting clogged because more people will be using less of them.

I really enjoyed A Whole New Mind.  So many of the ideas made sense and I want to apply more of them to my classroom.  I don't know if Daniel Pink would agree with (or care about) any of my thoughts on A Whole New Mind.  I started Drive, his earlier book on motivation.  Maybe I should take a stab at that one day too, in terms of education.

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