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An interview with Daniel Pink.

This December 4-6, the piece to be for career and technical education (CTE) professionals is ACTE's Annual Convention end Career Tech Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina. This three-day event will bring you many greet sessions, networking opportunities, a packed expo floor end some incredible keynote speakers. One of these speakers is Daniel Pink, on expert on business and technology innovation end author of A Whole New Mind, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need and Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working For Yourself.

ACTE: Please briefly describe the focus of your book, A Whole New Mind.

DP: Well, this book makes an argument about how one set of abilities--that is, what we might think of as left-brain abilities: the logical, linear, SAT, spreadsheet kind of abilities--still matter in the economy, but they matter relatively less. And the abilities that matter most are the right-brain abilities: the artistry, empathy, big-picture thinking. Those are the abilities that are increasingly the ones that are most valuable in business.

And this is happening because of three key reasons. The world is getting richer, and so there is a premium on either infusing existing products with something more transcendent or creating something people didn't know they were missing. All kinds of routine, white-collar work is going overseas, forcing us more and more to do non-routine work. And also, automation; software is doing to our brains what machines did to our backs. It can do certain kinds of work better, faster and cheaper than we can.

So, to make it today, you have to do work that's hard to outsource, hard to automate and that delivers on some of the new strategies that are necessary in an ever-prosperous world. And that means, again, as I said, that the left-brain abilities are still essential, they're just not enough, and the right-brain abilities are the ones that really matter most.

ACTE: What kind of employee is going to be needed in the Conceptual Age that you discuss in the book?

DP: Well, again, it's somebody who can do the sorts of things that are hard to outsource and hard to automate, the sorts of work that you can't just put on a spec sheet, send overseas, and say, "Give me the right answer." The sort of work that you can't reduce to lines of code in a computer program. And that requires people who are multidisciplinary, people who are boundary-crossers, people who are good at iterating new things, people who can deploy the sorts of abilities that are hard to outsource and automate--things like empathy, big-picture thinking, artistry, narrative, and those sorts of things.

ACTE: It's easy to see how this right-brain thinking fits in with a CTE field such as graphic design, but what about something like auto technician or medical technician?

DP: Well, it depends. It depends on what kind of auto technician and what kind of medical technician. But let's take a medical technician. If it's simply looking at charts and processing those charts in an algorithmic way and coming up with the right answer, then I think that that particular skill set is actually in peril--that that particular skill set is less valuable. However, you know, the best medical technicians, like the best medical diagnosticians, are people who actually can think about the problem and analyze the situation both ways, who can essentially toggle, who can look at that set of data in an algorithmic way, but who can also toggle over and look at it in a big-picture, conceptual way.

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ACTE: A lot of the skills that you talk about are things that come with experience. It will be very difficult to differentiate yourself when just starting out as a medical technician, for instance, by saying that you have this toggle ability to go between this or that.

DP: I think that's a really good point. I think that, in some ways, at the entrance of the labor market there is a demand for some of the routine abilities. This is one reason you see early hires and you have these more kind of left-brain abilities being rewarded. The data show that that disappears pretty quickly. And so what it means is that you want to get some of that experience under your be]t, but you also want in terms of one's training--which is one of the things that you guys are focused on to have the capacity to ask good questions, to be curious. I think that good communication and interpersonal skills are essential because those are very hard to outsource and automate. Those are not a kind of a technical know-how that goes out of style.

ACTE: A big push right now in CTE is integrating core academics such as English and math with CTE courses. And it sounds like that jives with what you're saying about synthesis of different perspectives of the left and right brain. Would you agree?

DP: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it goes both ways too. I guess my answer is, "Amen. Yes, absolutely. You're right." Some of those academic subjects are very important because the pure technical know-how has a limited shelf life, and some of the academic abilities actually have a longer shelf life. You're basically building a set of muscles that you can deploy in different kinds of circumstances. But, as I was saying, I actually think it works the other way as well. That is, one of the things that you're beginning to see, ever so slightly is--let's take physics, okay? You see a slow move toward having physics be not only studying physics in the classroom, but integrating that with, say, building robots or robotics, so that you have this kind of one plus one equals three, where if you combine the technical stuff with the academic stuff it actually enhances both.

ACTE: Does right-brain thinking fit in with the current emphasis on testing in schools?

DP: No. In fact, in many ways, it's antithetical to it. I'm not maniacally opposed to testing. I think that there's some things that are testable and worth testing. And again, as I said before, these left-brain abilities are essential. If you don't know that nine times seven is 63, then I don't care how good your conceptual abilities are, you're going to have a hard time, whether you're an auto technician, whether you are a medical technician--whatever you do. And so the left-brain abilities still matter, and I think that they're measurable in some ways, and I think that it's worth measuring them. I don't think that should be the be-all and end-all of education.

For more information on ACTE's Annual Convention, visit www.acteonline.org. Register before November 3 for advance rates! To listen to the podcast of the full interview with Daniel Pink, a keynote speaker at ACTE's Annual Convention, visit www.acteonline.org.
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Title Annotation:Q & A
Publication:Techniques
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:1151
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