Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Daniel Pink in Nashville

Hey ya'll.

I set up a CoverItLive blog post this a.m. in the hopes that I would be able to use it during Daniel Pink's talk to teachers at the Ensworth School inservice kick-off this a.m. I had the best of intentions.

After arriving at the Ensworth High School campus to learn I was mistaken about the location (the inservice keynote for both schools was held at the K-8 school, duh) I trucked on in toward downtown and got into the talk just about 8 minutes into the presentation. There, before me, in the Ensworth School "Frist Hall," were a few hundred teachers in rows of chairs with Pink dwarfed by a good sized projector screen bearing his powerpoint. There was--I promise I'm not making this up--a single seat left at the far right of the backmost row. I sat.

As far as I could see, there was not a laptop open in the room. That discouraged me from pulling mine out, as well as the educated guess that if there were a wireless internet connection connecting to it would be more hassle than breeze. So I did manage to fire up my trusty Dell Axim and hit the "record" button. I don't know yet if I'll use any of the audio but it'll serve to help me recall just a few key points I want to share out.

For anyone not paying attention yet, Pink's book A Whole New Mind, Why Right-Brainers will Rule the Future, is certainly in the runnin--along with Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations--for the techbuzzbook of the year. If I heard either of those titles cited in a conversation or presentation at this summer's NECC2008 once, I heard them cited dozens of times.

I haven't seen Shirky yet, though I will (I did share his TED Talk with my Web20forUS! workshop participants earlier this summer). But I had to encroach on my (and my family's) last day of summer before our own inservice tomorrow and go see this man. My bottom-line recommendation? You do the same if you have a chance.

Pink, an economist by training and a writer by inclination and talent, brings a unique self-admitted left-brain perspective to his prediction that right-brainers will forge the economies of the future. The key foundation of his theory is that education designed for "Routines, Right Answers, and Standardization" is insufficient to prepare today's learners for a future economy whose defining contexts will be "Novelty, Nuance, and Customization." In great detail, he explained from his economic perspective how "Routine" will no longer be of value to future citizens of America, and that "that kind of work is disappearing from America. It races to the cheapest cost provider."

Pink projected beyond the phenomenon of mid-level routine white collar outsourcing (citing a NYTimes article from this very morning) to its racing through India, its current repository/provider, down to other cultures--Malaysia, Vietnam, the Phillipines. He painted a picture of the future informed by Google's recent declaration that their ideal employee may be a "non-routine savant." Here's the reference Pink drew from; here's what Google's looking for now (an important qualifier, that word, "now"), workers with:

... analytical reasoning. Google is a data-driven, analytic company. When an issue arises or a decision needs to be made, we start with data. That means we can talk about what we know, instead of what we think we know.

... communication skills. Marshalling and understanding the available evidence isn't useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.

... a willingness to experiment.
Non-routine problems call for non-routine solutions and there is no formula for success. A well-designed experiment calls for a range of treatments, explicit control groups, and careful post-treatment analysis. Sometimes an experiment kills off a pet theory, so you need a willingness to accept the evidence even if you don't like it.

[who are] team players. Virtually every project at Google is run by a small team. People need to work well together and perform up to the team's expectations.

... passion and leadership.
This could be professional or in other life experiences: learning languages or saving forests, for example. The main thing, to paraphrase Mr. Drucker, is to be motivated by a sense of importance about what you do.

Rosenburg, Jonathan (2008, July 15). Our Googley advice to students: Major in learning. The Official Google Blog, Retrieved 2008, August 12, from http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/our-googley-advice-to-students-major-in.html

Lest you feel the talk was just a matter of pointing out problems without offering suggestions for solving them, I must add the bullet points Pink worked from toward the end of his talk:

  • Experiment with new metrics (seek out ways to measure what is important, not just what is easy to measure)
  • Tear down walls (between academic disciplines)
  • Multi- (...task, ...disciplinary, ...cultural, ...everything)
  • Infuse Arts Education throughout all curricula
  • Get real about STEM (not routine, real--multi- and artistic)
  • Promote and defend autonomy (for innovation without catering to the past)
There's much more, of course, to Daniel Pink's talk, and I won't attempt to summarize it all here. Suffice it to say that A Whole New Mind is on my reading list. I hope you add it to yours.

Cheers from Nashville, with thanks to the administration at Ensworth School for having the foresight to assign this text to their teachers. What remains to be done by the teachers will bear watching: Pink spent some time exhorting them to experiment, citing the independent school's unique position out of the constraints of public education bureaucratic policies as key to their potential for change. I'm not sure that particular school is one that will be leading it, for a number of reasons. I'm not even sure my own independent school, a school with a very different history and philosophy of multiculturality and inclusion, is ready to embrace change on the scale Pink encourages.

Whomever leads it, change must come. Comments?

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