Thursday, January 27, 2005

Revenge of the Right Brain 

Logical and precise, left-brain thinking gave us the Information Age. Now comes the Conceptual Age - ruled by artistry, empathy, and emotion.

When I was a kid - growing up in a middle-class family, in the middle of America, in the middle of the 1970s - parents dished out a familiar plate of advice to their children: Get good grades, go to college, and pursue a profession that offers a decent standard of living and perhaps a dollop of prestige. If you were good at math and science, become a doctor. If you were better at English and history, become a lawyer. If blood grossed you out and your verbal skills needed work, become an accountant. Later, as computers appeared on desktops and CEOs on magazine covers, the youngsters who were really good at math and science chose high tech, while others flocked to business school, thinking that success was spelled MBA.

Tax attorneys. Radiologists. Financial analysts. Software engineers. Management guru Peter Drucker gave this cadre of professionals an enduring, if somewhat wonky, name: knowledge workers. These are, he wrote, "people who get paid for putting to work what one learns in school rather than for their physical strength or manual skill." What distinguished members of this group and enabled them to reap society's greatest rewards, was their "ability to acquire and to apply theoretical and analytic knowledge." And any of us could join their ranks. All we had to do was study hard and play by the rules of the meritocratic regime. That was the path to professional success and personal fulfillment.

But a funny thing happened while we were pressing our noses to the grindstone: The world changed. The future no longer belongs to people who can reason with computer-like logic, speed, and precision. It belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind. Today - amid the uncertainties of an economy that has gone from boom to bust to blah - there's a metaphor that explains what's going on. And it's right inside our heads.

Scientists have long known that a neurological Mason-Dixon line cleaves our brains into two regions - the left and right hemispheres. But in the last 10 years, thanks in part to advances in functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers have begun to identify more precisely how the two sides divide responsibilities. The left hemisphere handles sequence, literalness, and analysis. The right hemisphere, meanwhile, takes care of context, emotional expression, and synthesis. Of course, the human brain, with its 100 billion cells forging 1 quadrillion connections, is breathtakingly complex. The two hemispheres work in concert, and we enlist both sides for nearly everything we do. But the structure of our brains can help explain the contours of our times.

Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and business were characteristic of the left hemisphere. They were the sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by SATs and deployed by CPAs. Today, those capabilities are still necessary. But they're no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere - artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent.

Beneath the nervous clatter of our half-completed decade stirs a slow but seismic shift. The Information Age we all prepared for is ending. Rising in its place is what I call the Conceptual Age, an era in which mastery of abilities that we've often overlooked and undervalued marks the fault line between who gets ahead and who falls behind.

To some of you, this shift - from an economy built on the logical, sequential abilities of the Information Age to an economy built on the inventive, empathic abilities of the Conceptual Age - sounds delightful. "You had me at hello!" I can hear the painters and nurses exulting. But to others, this sounds like a crock. "Prove it!" I hear the programmers and lawyers demanding.

OK. To convince you, I'll explain the reasons for this shift, using the mechanistic language of cause and effect.

The effect: the scales tilting in favor of right brain-style thinking. The causes: Asia, automation, and abundance.


Few issues today spark more controversy than outsourcing. Those squadrons of white-collar workers in India, the Philippines, and China are scaring the bejesus out of software jockeys across North America and Europe. According to Forrester Research, 1 in 9 jobs in the US information technology industry will move overseas by 2010. And it's not just tech work. Visit India's office parks and you'll see chartered accountants preparing American tax returns, lawyers researching American lawsuits, and radiologists reading CAT scans for US hospitals.

The reality behind the alarm is this: Outsourcing to Asia is overhyped in the short term, but underhyped in the long term. We're not all going to lose our jobs tomorrow. (The total number of jobs lost to offshoring so far represents less than 1 percent of the US labor force.) But as the cost of communicating with the other side of the globe falls essentially to zero, as India becomes (by 2010) the country with the most English speakers in the world, and as developing nations continue to mint millions of extremely capable knowledge workers, the professional lives of people in the West will change dramatically. If number crunching, chart reading, and code writing can be done for a lot less overseas and delivered to clients instantly via fiber-optic cable, that's where the work will go.

But these gusts of comparative advantage are blowing away only certain kinds of white-collar jobs - those that can be reduced to a set of rules, routines, and instructions. That's why narrow left-brain work such as basic computer coding, accounting, legal research, and financial analysis is migrating across the oceans. But that's also why plenty of opportunities remain for people and companies doing less routine work - programmers who can design entire systems, accountants who serve as life planners, and bankers expert less in the intricacies of Excel than in the art of the deal. Now that foreigners can do left-brain work cheaper, we in the US must do right-brain work better.


Last century, machines proved they could replace human muscle. This century, technologies are proving they can outperform human left brains - they can execute sequential, reductive, computational work better, faster, and more accurately than even those with the highest IQs. (Just ask chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.)

Consider jobs in financial services. Stockbrokers who merely execute transactions are history. Online trading services and market makers do such work far more efficiently. The brokers who survived have morphed from routine order-takers to less easily replicated advisers, who can understand a client's broader financial objectives and even the client's emotions and dreams.

Or take lawyers. Dozens of inexpensive information and advice services are reshaping law practice. At, you can get an uncontested divorce for $249, less than a 10th of the cost of a divorce lawyer. Meanwhile, the Web is cracking the information monopoly that has long been the source of many lawyers' high incomes and professional mystique. Go to and you can download - for the price of two movie tickets - fill-in-the-blank wills, contracts, and articles of incorporation that used to reside exclusively on lawyers' hard drives. Instead of hiring a lawyer for 10 hours to craft a contract, consumers can fill out the form themselves and hire a lawyer for one hour to look it over. Consequently, legal abilities that can't be digitized - convincing a jury or understanding the subtleties of a negotiation - become more valuable.

Even computer programmers may feel the pinch. "In the old days," legendary computer scientist Vernor Vinge has said, "anybody with even routine skills could get a job as a programmer. That isn't true anymore. The routine functions are increasingly being turned over to machines." The result: As the scut work gets offloaded, engineers will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence.

Any job that can be reduced to a set of rules is at risk. If a $500-a-month accountant in India doesn't swipe your accounting job, TurboTax will. Now that computers can emulate left-hemisphere skills, we'll have to rely ever more on our right hemispheres.


Our left brains have made us rich. Powered by armies of Drucker's knowledge workers, the information economy has produced a standard of living that would have been unfathomable in our grandparents' youth. Their lives were defined by scarcity. Ours are shaped by abundance. Want evidence? Spend five minutes at Best Buy. Or look in your garage. Owning a car used to be a grand American aspiration. Today, there are more automobiles in the US than there are licensed drivers - which means that, on average, everybody who can drive has a car of their own. And if your garage is also piled with excess consumer goods, you're not alone. Self-storage - a business devoted to housing our extra crap - is now a $17 billion annual industry in the US, nearly double Hollywood's yearly box office take.

But abundance has produced an ironic result. The Information Age has unleashed a prosperity that in turn places a premium on less rational sensibilities - beauty, spirituality, emotion. For companies and entrepreneurs, it's no longer enough to create a product, a service, or an experience that's reasonably priced and adequately functional. In an age of abundance, consumers demand something more. Check out your bathroom. If you're like a few million Americans, you've got a Michael Graves toilet brush or a Karim Rashid trash can that you bought at Target. Try explaining a designer garbage pail to the left side of your brain! Or consider illumination. Electric lighting was rare a century ago, but now it's commonplace. Yet in the US, candles are a $2 billion a year business - for reasons that stretch beyond the logical need for luminosity to a prosperous country's more inchoate desire for pleasure and transcendence.

Liberated by this prosperity but not fulfilled by it, more people are searching for meaning. From the mainstream embrace of such once-exotic practices as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the workplace to the influence of evangelism in pop culture and politics, the quest for meaning and purpose has become an integral part of everyday life. And that will only intensify as the first children of abundance, the baby boomers, realize that they have more of their lives behind them than ahead. In both business and personal life, now that our left-brain needs have largely been sated, our right-brain yearnings will demand to be fed.

As the forces of Asia, automation, and abundance strengthen and accelerate, the curtain is rising on a new era, the Conceptual Age. If the Industrial Age was built on people's backs, and the Information Age on people's left hemispheres, the Conceptual Age is being built on people's right hemispheres. 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.

But let me be clear: The future is not some Manichaean landscape in which individuals are either left-brained and extinct or right-brained and ecstatic - a land in which millionaire yoga instructors drive BMWs and programmers scrub counters at Chick-fil-A. Logical, linear, analytic thinking remains indispensable. But it's no longer enough.

To flourish in this age, we'll need to supplement our well-developed high tech abilities with aptitudes that are "high concept" and "high touch." High concept involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to come up with inventions the world didn't know it was missing. High touch 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.

Developing these high concept, high touch abilities won't be easy for everyone. For some, the prospect seems unattainable. Fear not (or at least fear less). The sorts of abilities that now matter most are fundamentally human attributes. After all, back on the savannah, our caveperson ancestors weren't plugging numbers into spreadsheets or debugging code. But they were telling stories, demonstrating empathy, and designing innovations. These abilities have always been part of what it means to be human. It's just that after a few generations in the Information Age, many of our high concept, high touch muscles have atrophied. The challenge is to work them back into shape.

Want to get ahead today? Forget what your parents told you. Instead, do something foreigners can't do cheaper. Something computers can't do faster. And something that fills one of the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age. In other words, go right, young man and woman, go right.

Adapted from A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, copyright © by Daniel H. Pink, to be published in March by Riverhead Books. Thanks to

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Charlie Does Surf


Yo. Check out Charlie Does Surf from It's a surf Clash tribute that truly rocks. Click the above graphic to check out "Straight To Hell" by CHUM.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Thinking May Not Be All It's Thought to Be

In 1962 Albert von Szent-Gyorgyi, stated in Irving Good, The Scientist Speculates that "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought." Which to me, puts into words the secret formula for innovation and fresh ideas in general. It's the justification for a nice long walk instead of a forced brainstorming session, the long weekend at the beach instead of the office and simply taking a left where you generally take a right. It's up to you. Why, as the Material girl put it, "Strike a Pose." when you know deep down that it's much more interesting to Juxtapose? John Schwarts focuses on two recent entries to the cultural fold and came up with this nice little chunk of food for thought...

Feel the ripple in the zeitgeist? Two new slogans are busily burrowing their way into popular culture.

Steven P. Jobs introduced one last week: "Life is random." It's attached to the iPod Shuffle, Apple's teeny new music player. The second comes from Malcolm Gladwell, a writer known for seeing revolutions in small things. The slogan is "Blink, don't think," and goes with his new book, "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," which argues that our instant decisions can be better than those born of long contemplation.

These two marketing aphorisms - ad-phorisms, if you will - pull so insistently at the brain that they feel more like an affirmation than a pitch, and bear a slight tang of wisdom.

The iPod Shuffle is, like other Apple products, sleek and inviting - that characteristic yin/yang blend of hot and cool. Smaller than a pack of gum, the $99 version stores just 120 songs, a fraction of the capacity of a full-fledged iPod. But that's part of the point.

Sure, you can program the Shuffle intricately via the computer, your inner disk jockey drawing up precise playlists so that, say, if you are suffering a happiness drought, you can tell the little stick to play Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," and then the even sweeter version by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, the enormous Hawaiian ukulele legend - who blended it with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - and then demolish those remaining blues with the punk-rock version by Joey Ramone. (It's like downing a shot of serotonin with a Dexedrine chaser.) But clever Apple knows that most users will simply want the gadget to grab songs out of the main computer's library and then play them in an order of its choosing. Random. Like life.

Apple, with the attitude of an artist and the eye of an anthropologist, has asked: How do we listen to music? What do we want from it? A response from the company, and its millions of customers, is that music is a kind of ambient grace, which blocks out the cellphone jabber on the train, the honking horn on the walk to the grocery store. And the result is that little white earbuds have become ubiquitous around the country.

"Blink" is also a creature of the moment. It says that a snap judgment is often smarter than a considered one. Mr. Gladwell speaks of a "second mind" that "sends its messages through weirdly indirect channels, like the sweat glands on the palms of our hands." He adds: "It's a system in which our brain reaches conclusions without immediately telling us that it's reaching conclusions."

Both slogans speak to the feeling that there's too much data and not enough knowledge, too many choices and not enough good ones, says Seth Godin, an author who focuses on marketing issues. "This desire to completely control the environment has started to unravel in the past five years," he said.

The shock from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in part explains that development, he said, but so do the billion Web sites and millions of blogs, tens of thousands of books in the store and hundreds of television channels. This cacophony, he said, has led the culture to the belief that, "You couldn't control all the choices; you couldn't control all the noise."

The alternative offered by Mr. Jobs and Mr. Gladwell, is not quite, "Don't worry, be happy," but a slightly more nuanced: Relax. Yes, life is random. But you can enjoy the ride.

These two products come from different eras - the book from the prehistoric world before silicon, and the music player from five minutes ago - but both suggest to consumers that there is a way to remain thinking, feeling people in a world overgrown with data, options and demands, said David Bennahum, who writes about technology issues for the online magazine Slate and for Wired magazine.

"They are two things that say your rational process of making sense of things is a model that may be obsolete," he said. " 'Life is random' is a really great way of shrugging your shoulders in a Buddhist way of nonattachment."

Intuitive improvisation is the secret of genius.

Ob La Di Ob La Da.
Well Known: Lennon McCartney

That's Right,


Thanks to John Schwarts at The New York Times

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

IPod Shuffle Sparks Stampede

Well, It's official. As of January 11, 2005 about 10:43 CMT Steve Job's uttered his trademark "And there's one more thing..." The new flash iPod from Apple! After some uncharacteristic delays on the Apple site, I finally confirmed my order for my 1GB iPod Shuffle literaly 9 minutes after it was anounced to the world. So did Reagan, my business partner. (For the record, I ordered mine a few minutes before he did. That's Right!) Delivery date is set for no later that 01.28.05. It seems that I wasn't the only one ready to jump on the latest must have from the company that truly knows what we all really want in regard to technology, funtionality, elegance and stuff that simply works. Here's the latest from Wired at Macworld.

SAN FRANCISCO -- To see the mob at the San Francisco Apple Store late Tuesday morning, you might have thought U2 was in the house. But the actual star of the day was the brand new iPod shuffle, a $100, 512-MB music player and Apple Computer's shot across the bow of its competitors in the low-end MP3 player category.

Just minutes earlier, at the close of his Macworld keynote address at Moscone Center, Apple CEO Steve Jobs had said he'd "heard a rumor" that the iPod shuffle was available at the nearby Apple Store, two blocks north. That set off a rush of more than 100 people who couldn't wait to get their hands on the new product.

"I'm here because I'm scared that they'll be sold out if I wait until tomorrow," said Steve Salos, an employee at the nearby CompUSA store. "At CompUSA, I get my (employee discount, but the Apple Store is) the only place you can get" the iPod shuffle.

In recent years, keynote attendees were treated to wireless internet connections and were able to order whatever product Jobs had just announced online. But this year, there was no working Wi-Fi in the auditorium, and so, perhaps by design, frantic would-be iPod shuffle buyers had little choice but to try to beat the crowd to the Apple Store.
"It was mass hysteria," said Paul Spalek, who was canvassing outside the Apple Store for the Fund for Public Interest. "There were pretty much people from every depth of the street who were taking pictures.... Everyone was in their own little head because of this."

Anthony Kolb, an Apple Store employee, said he was just returning from his lunch break when he saw the mass of people descending on the store. "It was pretty insane," Kolb said. "I had to swim through people to the back. It was a lot of fun."
Kolb also said that, due to the secrecy that always surrounds new Apple product launches, he and other store employees had not known what the big Macworld launch would be. Thus, he said, he had no advance sales training.
"You're going to know when the customer knows," he said he was told. "So you're going to have to learn (how to sell it) as fast as possible."

Meanwhile, inside the store, employee Michael Lyen was handing out iPod shuffles as fast as he could pull them out of boxes. Many people were taking two and three at a time. It had the feel of someone handing out freebies on the street. Such is the lure of being one of the first to shell out $100 for a music player that is shorter than a pen. Stefano Scalia, who was standing in line to buy one, said the whole experience was an exercise in being a part of what he called "Steve Jobs' reality-distortion field."

"Anything he says, everybody buys it," Scalia said. "I just wanted to run out and get one even though I'm on a tight budget.... I'm a die-hard Mac user, and basically, everyone's going to have one. I need to have one." It's not just Mac users who are buying iPod shuffles. Like the rest of the iPod family, the new devices work with either Macs or PCs, making it clear that Apple intends to take over what little of the music player market it doesn't already control.

Given the iPod shuffle's placement as the final announcement at Jobs' keynote, it is becoming apparent that, regardless of the name of the show, the iPod is Apple's standard-bearer. That doesn't necessarily sit well with everyone. "I like the Mac for the operating system and the computer," said Kolb. "The iPod is cool, but the Mac is cooler. I would hate to see the iPod take over the company."

Kolb shouldn't worry. On Jan. 22, Apple will begin selling its new Mac mini, Jobs' other big announcement of the day. With the Mac mini priced at $500, Kolb will probably have to swim his way through a sea of Mac buyers.

Thanks to Daniel Terdiman @ Wired

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Podcasting: Finally!

I've been recording my favorite NPR segments for 14+ years. (And i've been grabbing stuff from the radio waves with reel to reels, 8 Tracks and cassettes since the early 70's). Needless to say, the idea of recording stuff to later compile for future listining and share with others has been with me for as long as I can remember, and now that we're officially in the Wired Age it's got a name: Podcasting.

The Podcastings formula takes us one step closer to an idea that's been bouncing around in my head since my first reel to reel recorder I got back in 3rd grade, 1969. My version of Podcasting, or the way I like to think of it - is a subscription based programable satelite radio that offers an ala-carte style menu of all things audio. The cool part would be the fact that it would not be a stream but a daily, selfcontained program. So, instead of me having to go to the NPR web site and hit the various featured programs, (This American Life, Morning Edition, Selected Shorts, The World, Fresh Air, just to name a few of my favorites), the daily Stardate segment or today's forecats, I'd have all of my favorites in my own custom radio program automatically downloaded to my iPod each morning and ready to play before I've even had my first cup of coffee. That's right, no commercials, no daily body count from Iraq, just the positive stuff that makes me happy to be alive. (I save the the real world perspective for Sundays NY Times.) Now that's something I'm willing and ready to pay for.

Here's Wired Magazine's take on one of Podcastings forefathers, Adam Curry:

Although he’s famous for having been an MTV VJ, Adam Curry is better known these days as one of the fathers of podcasting, a rapidly growing technology that allows anyone to subscribe to and automatically download audio content feeds to an MP3 player.

Curry's own podcast, Daily Source Code, is one of the better known shows in the young genre and is often cited by aficionados as an example of everything that's great about the technology.

Yet on his show, Curry is known for occasional fumbles with the microphone, pregnant pauses and sundry hiccups in what is otherwise seen as a valuable daily look at the latest and greatest in podcasting. The question is, if he's having a bad-equipment day, could he lose his audience?

"Everyone has a different level of karma," said podcaster Dave Slusher of the dangers of producing imperfect podcasts. "He has a lot banked up, but most people don't. In fact, as we started (Evil Genius Chronicles), the whole reason that I edited out the stuff he leaves in was because I figured that while people would listen to him do it, no one would when I did."

In October, a Google search would have returned fewer than 6,000 results for "podcasting." Today, that number is 744,000, and it seems nearly that many podcasts are available. But as with blogs, a sharp divide exists between the relatively small number of good podcasts and the vast number of bad ones, or at least ones that weren't around long enough, or don't update often enough, to attract an audience.

To some, podcasting is too new to judge, especially in the context of a medium that could be attractive to the mainstream. "To me, it's sort of like evaluating an ecosystem when there are three blades of grass pushing up through the dirt," said Doc Searls, a popular blogger and podcasting evangelist. "I think it's the future of whatever the people will replace radio with.... It's a way for the demand side to supply itself."

The medium's nascence contributes to the feeling that in order to get an audience, podcasters almost have to be one of the cool kids. "Content-wise, it tends to be very cliquey and cultish," said Carl Franklin, co-producer of the widely listened-to podcast DotNetRocks. "There's a huge underground feeling to the shows that are popular right now."

Still, while the bulk of podcasts focus on technology or politics, a growing number cover other worthwhile topics, even as the roster of bad ones grows exponentially.

"The things that grab me," said Slusher, "are some combination of interesting subject, amusing delivery and voice, uniqueness and candor or honesty in emotion." He said he enjoys The Rock and Roll Geek Show, produced by San Francisco musician Michael Butler, in which Butler talks about the life of bands and other music topics.
Slusher also said he regularly listens to Reel Reviews, Mike Geoghegan's podcast about movies. "Every so often, he picks a movie, announces it upfront and gives people time to re-watch it," Slusher said. "He does a super in-depth show."

Andrew Leyden, president of PenguinRadio, which maintains, said he particularly likes Whole Wheat Radio, a Northern Exposure-esque show produced by a married couple who talk about life in their small Alaskan town, as well as play and review music.

Leyden also touted the comedy talk show The Dawn and Drew Show. "They're definitely outrageous," he said. "They definitely show you why the FCC does not regulate podcasting. They sometimes go over the top a little bit."
Corie Schlegel, who writes PodcastReviews under the name Kirowan, said he enjoys Indie Feed, which has two hosts who intersperse songs from independent bands with brief commentary.

For core podcasting fans, the most recommended podcasts include the full complement of IT Conversations, Curry's Daily Source Code, Slusher's Evil Genius Chronicles and Kevin Devin's In the Trenches.
Searls said In the Trenches is "down in the bowels of some IT organization, and he talks about his racks and servers, and it's great. All the interesting (IT) stuff is being done by the rank and file. It's not being done at the top of the company."

In any case, podcasting still has a long way to go, given how many of its practitioners fumble with their equipment, bore their audiences and fail to produce regularly. Yet many of those interviewed for this story think podcasting is at the heart of audio broadcasting's future, especially given that recording technology is getting cheaper and podcasting technology will only continue to get easier to use.

"It's a matter of time before it ... changes the nature of speech," Searls said, "because everything (can) become a poddable cast." Franklin agreed, and said given how young podcasting is, it's important to look beyond what's available today to see a day when it will be widely used by public radio, churches, universities, families and anyone else with a microphone.

"Most people misjudge the usefulness of the technology by judging the content," said Franklin. "(They) say, 'Why would I want to listen to this audio blog?' When in fact, the future of the technology has nothing to do with audio blogs."

Thanks to Daniel Terdiman at Wired