Tag Daniel Pink

“I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.” – Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder …*

"I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism." -Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder ...* |rethinked.org

I may be a bit biased here but I could not be any more excited to share Dominic’s interview today. Dominic Randolph is the Headmaster of the Riverdale Country School, where he has been prototyping various ways to rethink what it means to learn to and for change–notably by exploring the intersections of Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology with education. He is the co-founder of our team and, on a more personal note, my father and one of my very best friends. Connect with Dominic on Twitter @daar17.

What was the last experiment you ran? 

Changing spaces where I work. Finding small “in-between” spaces to work with my computer. Changing work spaces all the time. Not being in a fixed spot.


What are some of the things that you fear and how do you manage your fear?

Life is fear and finding ways to embrace fear. I believe that we all have a “Woody Allen voice” in our heads constantly narrating our anxieties. I think you achieve things by listening to the voice indeed, but basically ignoring it. Things tend to turn out most of the time quite well, but the little voice assumes the worst. Acting positively and confidentially mitigates the voice’s affect on one’s decisions. And yet, without the voice, the fear, life would not be as amusing nor would one do anything really. It is the comparison between the status quo of the “little worried voice” and taking action that makes you feel a sense of achievement.


What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to? 

I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.


What is the most provocative idea you’ve come across in the past decade

Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” is one of the most provocative, elegant and most difficult to employ idea that I have come across in the last decade. The other one would be “design thinking” that I read in Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind and on Tim Brown’s blog “Design Thinking”. The concepts of human-centered design, prototyping and divergent thought as elements of design thinking have changed my life.


Can you tell me about a transformational moment in your life?

I often think that the most transformational moments are not the most groundbreaking or the most striking. They are small moments that lead to change. The most transformational moments in my life were dinner debates with my aunt, mother and brother while growing up and meeting, Kris, my future wife, and Elsa, my future daughter, at a small gallery in Sarlat, France.



Finding meaning and purpose in one’s life leads to living a good life.



Empathize with others–really try to put yourself in their shoes and listen well. Also, draw your thoughts out on a regular basis. Drawing is deeply human.



How can I be my better future self? What legacy will I choose to leave on this earth?



Movies: Withnail and I by Bruce Robinson, En Sus Ojos by Juan Jose Campanella, Mifune’s Last Song by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, The Trip by Michael Winterbottom, Naked by Mike Leigh

Books: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Le Citte Invisibili by Italo Calvino, Distant Relations by Carlos Fuentes, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, Any short story by Alice Munro, La Peau du Chagrin by Balzac…

Music: GoldbergVariations played by Glenn Gould, Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones, Every Breaking Wave by U2, Ink by Coldplay, Heysatan by Sigur Ros, Wait it Out by Imogen Heap, Afterlife by Arcade Fire, Bien Avant by Benjamin Biolay, 400 Lux by Lorde, Creep by Radiohead…

Images: Morandi still lives, Piranesi etchings, Cartier-Bresson photographs, Cindy Sherman portraits, Klein blue paintings, Henry Moore sculptures…


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Rethinking…* Learning ~ Transmission as Discovery of the Inexpressible

Our freight.

The bringing together of what has been parted

makes a language quiver.

Across millennia and the village street

through tundra and forests

by farewells and bridges

towards the city of our child

everything must be carried.



Last week, I had an interesting discussion with my father about what type of knowledge should be taught in schools and what the quickly changing practices of learning and teaching might come to look like in the near future. This conversation highlighted an interesting dichotomy between knowing and learning in today’s world. The ‘Googleability’ of questions is forcing teachers and educators to question and rethink not only their own roles but the very definition of education itself in this age saturated by technology and information accessible virtually anywhere and at any time. What is a Googleable question and, more importantly, what is its opposite? How can we start to think about the nature of non-Googleable questions?

Obviously these are loaded questions which affect a wide spectrum of stakeholders and require deep collective rethinking. Our conversation ended with these questions left open-ended and unresolved. But the binary struck me and has been gnawing at me for the past week. What does a learning practice outside the realm of ‘knowing’ look like? How might it be expressed? While I certainly haven’t come close to an answer, I had an insight today, which helped me frame this tension in a new way.


Today is art critic, social historian, poet, novelist, and one of my biggest heroes–John Berger—‘s birthday. Berger is a prolific thinker and writer concerned above all with the nature and experience of the human condition. And like most of my other ‘virtual’ mentors–some of which I have already mentioned here on rethinked.org: Dan EldonMartin AmisChristopher HitchensAlberto GiacomettiW.H. Auden–I was introduced to John Berger’s life and work by my father.

In fact, most of my worldviews and understanding of my self and reality have been shaped by these myriad conversations with my father throughout the years. I would tell him about the new ideas I encountered at school that excited me and he would mention books, people, studies and films that provided different perspectives on that idea and enabled me to push and refine my thinking about it. He helped me explore my interests and taught me to learn. These conversations were much more than a way to pass the time or communicate information. They form a core part of our bond. I know, and have known for a long time now, that these conversations are an act and expression of love. By being interested, listening and encouraging me to push my thinking about these ideas and the connections that arise between them, my father was shaping my worldview, learning, knowledge and our relationship.

This idea of transmission as both an act of learning and love is key to the paradox of learning versus knowing in today’s world. I do not mean to oversimplify or fall prey to easy binaries, but I do think there is value in distinguishing the concept of transmission from that of communication. Transmission is not separate from communication, but constitutes a specific aspect of the communication process. Communication refers to the entire process of encoding data into discrete, dispersible vessels that can be transferred to and decoded by another person. It refers to the entire process of encoding, decoding, dispersing, receiving, and interpreting, as well as the result of the process: A sends B a message, meaning X; B receives the message and interprets it, either successfully as X, or not. Transmission, on the other hand, refers more specifically to design; to intent.

Transmission is the most complexly human part of the communication process. It is the reflection and decisions that go into not only which data and information to encode, but also, and perhaps more importantly, how to encode this information so as to optimize and enhance the decoding experience for the receiver of our message. It is the art of imparting essential and often inexpressible ‘truths’ of life. For example, we teach character primarily through transmission. Schools have ethics programs and moral codes for their students. They have strategies such as rewards and punishments to communicate and teach ideals and behaviors such as empathy, self-control, or grit. But these are often experienced as exterior constraints by the students subjected to such programs. Transmission is about communicating these same ideals and social codes in ‘hypodermic’ ways. Transmission is the act of expressing indescribable truths by creating the experience of discovery for someone else and leading them through it.

I think that as we enter into the full swing of what Daniel Pink has called the Conceptual Age, an era of (nearly universal) ubiquitous access to technology, automation and abundance, the acts of teaching and learning will have to become more human and more empathetic. While teachers and parents do not have the same responsibilities or emotional investments towards their students, I think teaching and learning will have to become increasingly about transmission–design, ethics and the human factor of our experiences. For although we hoard our knowledge in museums and libraries, accumulate it and worry about passing it on to our children, it too perishes in the face of time. Ideas are killed off, proven wrong, taken in new directions. But what does endure is our need to seek knowledge, our ache to understand the world and our place within it. When I was growing up Pluto was a planet, now it’s not. But my father taught me that when someone point at the sky, only the idiot looks at the finger. Learning will have to become increasingly about nurturing the impulse to look beyond and about transmitting the sense of vast and endless possibilities that the act of looking creates.


Perhaps this idea is best articulated by John Berger’s poem Separation, found in his book And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, a virtuosic merging and exploration of the many themes–art, time, space, reality, perception, love subjectivity, ethics—that run across Berger’s vast opus.


We with our vagrant language
we with our incorrigible accents
and another word for milk
we who come by train
and embrace on platforms
we and our wagons
we whose voice in our absence
is framed on a bedroom wall
we who share everything
and nothing–
this nothing which we break in two
and wash down with a gulp
from the only bottle,
we whom the cuckoo
taught to count,
into what currency
have they changed our singing?
What in our single beds
do we know of poetry?

We are experts in presents
both wrapped ones
and the others left surreptitiously.
Before leaving we hide our eyes our feet our backs.
What we take is for the luggage rack.
We leave our eyes behind
in the window frames and mirrors
our feet behind
on the carpet by the bed
our backs
in the mortar of the walls
and the doors hung on their hinges.
The door closed behind us
and the noise of the wagon wheels.

We are experts too in taking.
We take with us anniversaries
the shape of a fingernail
the silence of the child asleep
the taste of your celery
and the word for milk.
What in our single beds
do we know of poetry?

Single track, junction and
marshalling yards
read out loud to us.
No poem has longer lines
than those we have taken.
Like horsedealers we know how
to look a distance in the mouth
and judge its pain by its teeth.

With mules, on foot
by airliners and lorries
in our hearts
we carry everything,
harvests, coffins, water,
oil, hydrogen, roads,
flowering lilac and
the earth thrown into the mass grave.

We with our bad foreign news
and another word for milk
what in our single beds
do we know of poetry?

We know as well as the midwives
how women carry children
and give birth,
we know as well as the scholars
what makes a language quiver.

Our freight.
The bringing together of what has been parted
makes a language quiver.
Across millennia and the village street
through tundra and forests
by farewells and bridges
towards the city of our child
everything must be carried.

We contain poetry
as the cattle trucks of the world
carry cattle.
Soon in the sidings
they will sluice them down.

On Delight: The Comfort of Small, Wondrous Objects

I have spent the past three days in a haze of wheezing, mouth breathing and achy bones so for today’s Rethinked…* Daily, I thought I would highlight the object that has given me the most comfort through my cold: my white Umbra House Tissue Box designed by Mauricio Affonso.

Of his process Affonso writes,

“Traditional tissue boxes are not exactly fun. Since my design mantra is to eliminate ugly, I wanted to transform this everyday household item into an object of play–bright colors, a cute silhouette and paper that pulls through the chimney so that with each fresh tissue you can spontaneously transform its shape.”

Mission accomplished–with flying colors might I add. The simple and minimalist design of this oversized Monopoly-like house, with its billowing clouds of tissue paper, provokes childhood-like feelings of wonder, delight and playfulness. After three days of burning achy skin under my nose and feeling as though I might cough up a lung at any moment, my crankiness factor has gone way up while my inclination for seeking delight in the ordinary has all but vanished. Yet this small object, so simple, beautiful and full of wonder, has rekindled my spirits and continues to make me feel physically much better. (How’s that for psychosomatic?!)

The design of the Umbra House Tissue Box reminds me of the five qualities that John Berger observes in the traditional wooden birds crafted in France’s Haute Savoie region; qualities which, “when undifferentiated and perceived as a whole, provoke at least a momentary sense of being before a mystery.”

First there is a figurative representation–one is looking at a bird, more precisely a dove, apparently hanging in mid-air. Thus, there is a reference to the surrounding world of nature.

Secondly, the choice of subject (a flying bird) and the context in which it is placed (indoors where live birds are unlikely) render the object symbolic. This primary symbolism then joins a more general, cultural one. Birds, and doves in particular, have been credited with symbolic meanings in a very wide variety of cultures.

Thirdly, there is a respect for the material used. The wood has been fashioned according to its own qualities of lightness, pliability and texture. Looking at it, one is surprised by how well wood becomes bird.

Fourthly, there is a formal unity and economy. Despite the object’s apparent complexity, the grammar of its making is simple, even austere. Its richness is the result of repetitions which are also variations.

Fifthly, this man-made object provokes a kind of astonishment: how on earth was it made? I have given rough indications above, but anyone unfamiliar with the technique wants to take the dove in his hands and examine it closely to discover the secret which lies behind its making.

The Umbra House Tissue Box may seem frivolous to some, but by so thoroughly and seamlessly blending attention to function as well as (and in equal parts to) human affect, this object fits Daniel Pink’s description of design’s central role in the creation of objects that satisfy and stimulate both of our brains’ hemispheres; an object fit for our contemporary Conceptual Age.

Your kitchen offers further evidence of the new premium on design. We see it, of course, in those high-end kitchens with gleaming Sub-Zero refrigerators and gargantuan Viking ranges. But the phenomenon is most evident in the smaller, less expensive goods that populate the cabinets and countertops of the United States and Europe. Take the popularity of “cutensils”—kitchen utensils that have been given personality implants. Open the drawer in an American or European home and you’ll likely find a bottle opener that looks like a smiling cat, a spaghetti spoon that grins at you and the pasta, or a vegetable brush with googly eyes and spindly legs. Or just go shopping for a toaster. You’ll have a hard time finding a plain old model, because most of the choices these days are stylized, funky, fanciful, sleek, or some other adjective not commonly associated with small appliances.

Some pundits might write off these developments as mass manipulation by wily marketers or further proof that well-off Westerners are mesmerized by style over substance. But that view misreads economic reality and human aspiration. Ponder that humble toaster. The typical person uses a toaster at most 15 minutes per day. The remaining 1, 425 minutes of the day the toaster is on display. In other words, 1 percent of the toaster’s time is devoted to utility, while 99 percent is devoted to significance. Why shouldn’t it be beautiful, especially when you can buy a good looking one for less than forty bucks? Ralph Waldo Emerson said that if you built a better mousetrap, the world would beat a path to your door. But in an age of abundance, nobody will come knocking unless your better mousetrap also appeals to the right side of the brain.” –Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future

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.

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