Contextualizing the three rethinked*annex disciplines: integrative thinking, design thinking & positive psychology

It was a passing mention of Daniel Pink‘s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainer Will Rule The World in Tim Brown‘s Change By Design that prompted my interest in the book. If Brown mentioned it, I hoped it would help me gain a deeper understanding of some aspect of the design thinking process; which it did, although not in the way I expected. I did not learn more about the process itself but I did learn how to think about it along with Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology–three of the rethinked*annex cycles–in a more nuanced, complex and holistic way.

Pink’s argument in A Whole New Mind is based on the metaphor of the human brain’s left/right hemisphere binary. Pink calls for a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between our brain’s two hemispheres. Both the left and right brain are simultaneously engaged in most human actions and thoughts but each hemisphere is specialized in different functions and depending on the activity, one side becomes relatively more important than the other. Understanding that both sides have a complex interwoven relationship, we can simplify a bit and say that humans operate on two basic planes of thought. Left-Directed Thinking can be generalized as logical, sequential and textual while Right-Directed Thinking is best described as emotional, simultaneous and contextual.

In A Whole New Mind, Pink makes the claim that we are currently in the midst of a transition from the ‘Information Age’ , characterized by its rock stars the “knowledge workers” to the ‘Conceptual Age,’ which will be dominated, according to Pink, by creators and empathizers. In the Conceptual Age, three major forces– automation, Asia and abundance–have made many predominantly left-brain aptitudes such as seriousness, logic, and accumulation obsolete and easily outsourceable. Therefore, to remain competitive, it is crucial for us all to start nurturing and cultivating right brain aptitudes. This is not to say that left brain aptitudes will no longer be relevant, but as Pink states, they are no longer sufficient. Pink identifies and describes six essential Conceptual Age aptitudes that will help us stay professionally relevant and fully engaged and satisfied in all aspects of our lives through these changing times. The six aptitudes Pink identifies are: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning.

  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 personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging. 65
  2. Not just argument but also STORY. When our lives are brimming with information and data, it’s not enough to marshal an effective argument. Someone somewhere will inevitably track down a counterpoint to rebut your point. The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative. 65
  3.  Not just focus but also SYMPHONY. Much of the Industrial and Information Ages required focus and specialization. But as white-collar work gets routed to Asia and reduced to software, there’s a new premium on the opposite aptitude: putting the pieces together, or what I call 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. 66
  4. Not just logic but also EMPATHY. The capacity for logical thought is one of the things that make us human. But in a world of ubiquitous information and advance analytic tools, logic alone won’t do. 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.
  5. Not just seriousness but also PLAY. Ample evidence points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games and humor. There is a time to be serious, of course. But too much sobriety can be bad for your career and worse for your general well-being. In the Conceptual Age, in work and in life, we all need to play. 66
  6. Not just accumulation but also MEANING. We live in a world of breathtaking material plenty. That 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. 67


If your brain bugged out a tiny bit when you read over the third aptitude that Pink describes and titles Symphony, it is most likely because you realized the uncanny similarity to Integrative Thinking. Not seeing the connection just yet? Pink’s description of Symphony seems as though it comes straight out of Roger Martin‘s The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking:

Symphony, as I call this aptitude, is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair. 126


This puts the various elements of rethinked*annex into a coherent whole. Design thinking, (Design), Integrative Thinking (Symphony), and Positive Psychology (Play, Meaning, Empathy) all come together as contemporary aptitudes for living a fulfilling happy and professionally successful life. Each of these aptitudes has been correlated with health, social, emotional and professional successes and are key ingredients to living a fulfilling engaged and meaningful life in our contemporary state of humanity.

Therefore, instead of making the fourth rethinked*annex cycle “Applied Virtue” based off of principles laid out in Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, I have decided to make it about the Conceptual Age and use Pink’s book as the foundation for that cycle’s exploration. This is a way to tie together the three other rethinked*annex cycles into a coherent whole and make more obvious and tangible the complex interrelatedness of these differing, yet mutually reinforcing disciplines. (Aristotle fans do not despair; I think I will include Nicomachean Ethics in the Integrative Thinking cycle.)


As I said, Pink’s book did not really contribute much to my understanding of the Design Thinking process itself but it proved immensely valuable in contextualizing the discipline. Pink has a chapter dedicated to each of the Conceptual Age aptitudes and at the end of each chapter he has a little tools and resources section in which he includes recommended reading and exercises to broaden one’s exploration and mastery of each aptitude. I will follow his recommendations and tools for nurturing my design aptitude (and be sure to post results and observations on here sometime next week) but I want to save exploring the tools and resources for the other five disciplines for the Conceptual Age cycle. The Conceptual Age part of the rethinked*annex project will be the last of the cycles as it will provide a way to reflect on each of the other three disciplines as their own entity as well as identifying new connections and relationships between the three.


For more quotes from A Whole New Mind and other resources related to the Conceptual Age and Pink’s six aptitudes head over to our Aptitudes for the Conceptual Age page. Enjoy!

Source: Pink, Daniel. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005. Print.


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Wow. I work as a coach and have worked with pelope on things like public speaking and this post is dead on. Most pelope are good at systematically picking off skills and behaviours . Sometimes they want a coach to hold them accountable to doing that, but the real value in a coach is when we can reflect back and point out the underlying assumptions and attitudes. That’s the powerful ground for change. Thanks so much for expressing this in a way that beats any of my attempts! I’ll be linking to it.

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