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Right-brain Skills and the Media Center: a Whole New Mind(set)

Right-brain Skills and the Media Center: a Whole New Mind(set)
KQWeb, Mar/Apr 2007

Doug Johnson

For those of us who were terrified by Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat and its reports on the rise of white collar job outsourcing of to foreign labor markets, Daniel Pink’s wonderful book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (Riverhead, 2005) brings some relief – if not a little optimism. There will be a place for our kids in tomorrow’s workplace, assuming of course, that librarians and other educators take some lessons from the book. A big assumption.

Like Friedman, Pink acknowledges the labor outsourcing trend (Asia). He also describes two other economic factors that will impact the kind of skills future workers will need: Abundance and Automation. He suggests that readesr ask themselves three questions about their jobs:

  1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
  2. Can a computer do it faster?
  3. Am I offering something that satisfies the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age? (Are you not just making toilet brushes, but toilet brushes that satisfy the user’s aesthetic sensibilities as well?)

As a result of these trends, Pink believes we are shifting from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age – and that “right-brainers will rule the future.” Successful players in this new economy will increasing be required to develop and use the right-brain abilities of high concept (seeing the larger picture, synthesizing information) and high touch (being empathetic, creating meaning). Happy news, perhaps, for those of us who never were all that good the left-brain stuff in the first place.

More specifically, he suggests we work toward developing in ourselves (and I hope by implication, our students), six right brain “senses,” to complement our left-brain, analytic skills.

In the age of educational accountability, too many classrooms seem to be gearing all their instructional efforts to helping students master left-brain skills, since that is what standardized tests measure, of course. But to what extent as library media specialists do we and should we also be developing design sense, storytelling abilities, synthesis, empathy, humor and the ability to detect the importance of the information? How do we create true “life-long learners?”

Using Pink’s model, might libraries cultivate the skills needed by the “conceptual age” worker?

  1. Not just function, but also DESIGN. “It’s no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestyle that’s merely functional. Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.”


Library programs can:

  • Introduce and read picture books. Study illustrators and their work, not just authors.
  • Buy and promote graphic novels.
  • Assess not just content, but appearance of student work.
  • Teach visual literacy.
  • Teach design principles as part of desktop publishing, multi-media presentations, web page development.


  1. Not just argument, but also STORY. “When our lives are brimming with information and data, it’s not enough to marshal an effective argument… The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling story.”


Library programs can:

  • Ask for student writing using the narrative voice.
  • Teach speaking skills.
  • Use storytelling as a part of teaching.
  • Give students opportunities to both hear and tell stories.
  • Promote the reading of narratives – fiction, biography, and narrative non-fiction


  1. Not just focus, but also SYMPHONY. “What’s in greatest demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis – seeing the big picture and, crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.”


Library programs can:

  • Help design classroom projects that cross disciplines.
  • Ask for the application of skills and concepts to genuine problems.
  • Ask for multiple sources of information when doing a research or information literacy activity.


  1. Not just logic, but also EMPATHY. “What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others.


Library programs can:

  • Emphasize reading literature about people from other cultures and socio-economic groups.
  • Give students service learning and volunteer opportunities – including as library volunteers.
  • Give students the opportunity to take part as an actor in theater productions.
  • Design group projects.


  1. Not just seriousness, but also PLAY (“Ample evidence points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games and humor.”


Library programs can:

  • Teach with games. Provide access to both physical and online games.
  • Use storytelling techniques that require action and music.
  • Teach through riddles and jokes, and encourage students to create and tell them.


  1. Not just accumulation, but also MEANING. “[Material plenty] has freed hundreds of millions of people from day-to-day struggles and liberated us to pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.”


Library programs can:

  • Share stories from comparative religion, myth and legend.
  • Teach ethical behaviors as a part of every project.
  • Ask for writings to include statements of personal values.

I will also be bold enough to add a seventh “sense” of my own to Mr. Pink’s list:

  1. Not just knowledge, but also LEARNING. Unless a person develops both the ability and the desire to continue to learn new skills, to be open to new ideas, and to be ready to change practices in the face of new technologies, economic forces, and societal demands, he or she will not be able to successfully compete in a global economy.


Library programs can:

  • Teach processes, not facts.
  • Encourage students to research areas of personal interest (and tolerate a diversity of interests).
  • Give students the ability to learn in non-traditional ways (online, early enrollment in college, apprenticeships) and support students in such learning environments.
  • Provide access to a wide range of information sources.

Are you as surprised to see how many of these “right-brain” senses we are already expanding? I was.

Our society and educational system sadly sees many of the opportunities listed above which develop “conceptual age” skills as “extras” – frills that are often the first to be cut in times of tight budgets. It’s tragically ironic that we are doing a disservice to our students as future workers and citizens by doing so.

Library programs have always been proponents of “right-brain” skill development. It’s more important than ever that our programs address them.

Especially number five!

Posted on Monday, January 2, 2012 at 10:26AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson | CommentsPost a Comment

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