Conceptual Age & A Whole New Mind

Min Chen
6 min readFeb 6, 2022


Image from Josh Hild

Take some time to reflect on the following three questions about your job:

  • Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
  • Can a computer do it faster?
  • Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?

If you are a designer, this means you should ask: can some automated tools do the design or can my boss find a freelancer in the global market for the tasks? More fundamentally, if the market needs another website that you are working on?

In the book “A whole new mind”, first published in 2005, Daniel Pink raised these forward-thinking questions. 17 years have passed. In the year of 2022, those are still pretty relevant questions. Because the market competition dynamics keeps evolving along these 3 dimensions — what he called ATG — Affluence, Technology, Globalization.

If you feel the sense of urgency to understand the competitive landscape and look for ways to position yourself? Let’s dive into this book.

Technology continues its unrelenting march, deluging us with data and choking us with choices.

— Daniel Pink

Left-directed thinking is not enough

What is your own learning experience?

The school tests how good your spelling is, how fast and accurate you do the math and how much you remember the textbook by heart.

As Daniel Pink puts it, “People get tested in the SAT and GMAT. Access to the good life depends on the ability to reason logically, sequentially and speedily.” Those abilities are typical left-directed thinking.

Image from Akshay Chauhan

But the interesting fact is a high rate of leaders being Dyslexics. Those leaders have inspired visionaries because Dyslexics make them think differently. They are intuitive. They simplify, see the big picture, and excel at problem-solving.

Another research asked what portion of career success IQ accounts for. The answer is shocking, only 4–10%. IQ only influences the profession one enters.

The other critical qualities like imagination, joyfulness, social dexterity are tougher to quantify. They are right-directed thinking, undervalued by the existing education system. They are what Daniel Pink believes makes the difference in the new age — the Conceptual Age.

From Agriculture Age to Conceptual Age

Let’s look into the history:

  • Industrial Age: the society demands mass production workers and therefore values physical strength and fortitude
  • Information Age: a new class rises. They are accountants, lawyers, computer engineers, so-called “Knowledge Workers”. Society values left-directed thinking.
  • Conceptual Age: now with the further development of ATG (Affluence, Technology, Globalization), we are entering a new age. “We need more creators and empathizers”, which requires using more of the right-side brain.

Right-side brain

The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing

— Greek proverb

The right hemisphere is like a picture; the left is about a thousand words. The computer can replace our left brain quite well, but in terms of face recognition ability, little kids can do much better than the super machine.

Compare our left and right brains

Left and Right combined, that is a whole new mind.

Put the two together and one gets a powerful thinking machine. Use either on its own and the result can be bizarre or absurd.

Compare our left and right brains

Six Senses for a new age

The second part of the book lists out six essential aptitudes for the new age. They are:

  • Not just function but also DESIGN (beautiful, emotionally engaging)
  • Not just argument but also STORY (The essence of persuasion, communication and self-understanding — fashion a compelling narrative)
  • Not just focus but also SYMPHONY (Industrial and information ages require focus and specialization, now not analysis but synthesis — see big pictures, cross boundaries)
  • Not just logic but also EMPATHY (Feeling other’s emotion)
  • Not just seriousness but also PLAY
  • Not just accumulation but also MEANING (purpose, transcendence, spiritual fulfillment)

However, the content is not very original. You can read as a digest and get some practical tips if some topics are quite new to you. Here are some notes.

1. Design

If you are a native of the rainforest, you learn to distinguish many sorts of leaves. We learn to distinguish many different typefaces.

— Virginia Postrel

Literacy with typefaces is one example that shows the democracy of design. The new middle-class is obsessed with design and become choosy. People have higher and higher taste, or “the aesthetic imperative”. Products must be beautiful, unique and meaningful. Among the many choices, they pick what will endure and delight.

Paola Antonelli defines Good design as a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.

To achieve good design, you need 2 other new senses:

  • Symphony: Design itself is a combination of utility and significance. It requires abilities to cross boundaries and make conceptual blending.
  • Empathy: User-centered design is about putting others at the focus. You listen to your users’ words but also observe to understand the subtext, their true emotions and attitudes.

2. Story

A fact is “The queen died and the king died.” A story is “The queen died and the king died of a broken heart.”

— E.M.Forster

Story is context enriched by emotion. Emotion makes us care, understand and remember. Is it easier to recall a fact or remember a story? Obviously, the story. You don’t remember the exact year Titanic sank, but you remember the love story happening on it.

Ursula Guin said: “the story is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding”

Today, facts are ubiquitous, nearly free and available at the speed of light. When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What matters is the ability to place facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. So your audience gets why it matters.

Which way is more powerful: Talking about environmental protection as dry facts and numbers, or as the documentary “David Attenborough: A life on our planet” did, telling a touching story by an old and wise man?

3. Meaning

What kind of life do you plan to live?

  • Pleasant life: a life full of positive emotions, a bit hedonic
  • Good life: use your “signature strengths” (what you’re great at) to achieve gratification. Turn “a Monday to Friday sort of dying” into a calling. In a state of flow (but still for yourself).
  • Meaningful life: “know what your highest strengths are and deploy them in the service of something larger than you are

Meaning. Purpose. Deep life experience. Whatever you call it, it is a basic human desire to find it in one’s life, especially after you have a comfortable life, seemingly owning every “thing”. That searching and finding journey is your spiritual life.

A “Whole” new mind combining our left and right brains is the approach to facing the challenges of Abundance, Globalization and Technology. Find your meaning and design your way to tell the unique story.



Min Chen

User experience designer @Ginetta, from Shanghai to Zurich