Note: Please find my notes on the session below. They are imperfect and will contain typos.

Listen to Podcast of Dan Pink at TASA 2009 Midwinters Conference

Sitting here listening to Friendswood High School Choir right before the Opening General Session: Dan Pink session. I managed to find a seat directly in front of the speaker’s podium, so have a great view of the stage and hope my battery lasts on the laptop.

In the meantime, the Friendswood High School Choir is doing a wonderful job! Since I had a teen in choir at middle school, I have an idea of how much practice went in to get ready!


What makes a good speech? In general, on dreary Monday afternoons after lunch in windowless rooms have 3 key ingredients:


“Repetition is an effective form of emphasis,” said Dan Pink’s old English teacher. I want to talk about the economy and education, but some stipulations: 1) I am not an educator, not a teacher, principal, superintendent, school board member. I study organizations and how people work within organizations. Anything valuable I have to say I say….2) The purpose of education, public education, is not to deliver employees to employers. Purpose is much broader, more important…full participation in a democratic society, allow each kid to reach their full potential. That’s the part of the conversation that dominates. If we can win that conversation, we can do right by our kids.

Show you the words of an asst. superintendent in Fairfax, Virginia:

“We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.” I’m going to use this as the fulcrum to discuss education and the economy. Let’s go back to my past, late 1970s. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. That was the sound of one hand clapping. ..the singular form of applause, a plause.

Middle class family, had the every boy experience. Advice went like this: Get good grades, go to college, pursue a profession that gave you a good income.

I followed that advice…I did go to law school. In the interests of transparency…I didn’t do well in law school. I graduated in the part that made the top 90% possible. The final 3rd of the 20th century…certain abilities that gave you the opportunity to get a job.

Our brains are divided into two hemispheres. Lots of stupid stuff about left and right brain. The science has become to catch up thanks to all sorts of technologies. Our brains are really complicated. In a broad toplogical level…our brains have divided up into different sets of tasks.

Left Brain: logical, linear, sequential, step by step, SAT, zero in on the right answer abilities
Right Brain: Processing things all at once, understanding context, handles synthesis than analysis

Metaphor: It was the left brain that employers wanted and that schools were designed to bring to the surface. Those kinds of left-brain abilities that made the whole brain go around. The SAT spreadsheet abilities…those are necessary. The left brain spreadsheet, linear, logical abilities are 100% necessary (x3).

You must have them, they are indispensable…BUT…they are not sufficient.

Abilities for the right brain…artistry, empathy, big picture thinking that matter most economically. Think about our past and kids future, that is the dividing line. If this is right–and I’m convinced it’s more right than wrong–then….

This is not a prescription or recipe for a better America…this is an argument. I’m a very left-brain guy, I’m very linear, sequential, love data, quantitative, I love charts-n-graphs.


Effect: scales are tilting
3 causes:

  • Asia
  • Automation
  • abundance

globalization, flattening world…85% of India is left behind, but what remains (150 million) is more workers than what we have in the U.S. India will be the largest English speaking country next year. English has become de facto language….

Cost of communication is ZERO.

Here’s the effect: today, 1 word has become a death sentence in the economy. Scariest word: ROUTINE.

Any work that is routine is disappearing from this country. If you can write down the steps, then that work races over fiber-optic cables somewhere else. Following a set of steps and getting a right answers…certain kinds of work is routine. If it’s routine, it’s a goner. We’ve seen this movie before.

Routine mass production work has left the U.S. That kind of work is not coming back. The U.S. has the largest manufacturing economy. Routine white-collar work is disappearing. Left brain work is being off-shored…our kids won’t be doing routine white-collar work than we are doing blue-collar work.

Automation…software is replacing our brain. What part of the brain is being replaced? The logical, linear, rule-based side? Software is doing to our brains what machines did for our backs.

“Say it loud, say it proud, church of the middle class…” Go to law school so you have something to fall back on. That piece of advice no longer applies. Example: Uncontested divorce. What does a lawyer do? They basically…try to make it contested (joke). This is what happens to routine work, even for lawyers:

  • – affordable divorce solutions.
  • 3stepdivorce


  • Income tax is shipped overseas
  • TurboTax

Don’t let the current bad economy fake us out. But it’s not going to stay permanently down. The trend is towards greater and greater material abundance.

Mobile Phones:

  • appear in 88% of households. Phones have more computing power than existed.
  • Color televisions are in 98% of homes.

Visual example of abundance:

  • Picture of storage

No company has ever “cut” its way to success, only innovated to success.

We think it’s all about high tech. What really matters is high concept and high touch. Hard to outsource, hard to automate, hard to reduce to lines of code, non-routine abilities….

I want to anticipate a question: What about STEM?

I am worried about how we talk about STEM in this country. This is enormously important. These are disciplines about curiousity, big thinking, not about turning kids as vending machines for right answers.

If you look in other left brain worlds…

Silicon Valley: bastion of left brain muscle flexing
Google: successful high tech companies.

What do you look for? Your high tech STEM company?

Non-routine savants.

In awe of educators for pushing that boulder up the mountain.

Novelty, Nuance, and customization are the watchwords of business today.

In schools, move towards routines, right answers and standardization. at precisely the moment when the economy is not about that.

Sharing the What Does Creativity mean? chart:

SOURCE: ‘Ready to Innovate,’ a report sponsored by the Conference Board, Americans for the Arts, and the American Association of School Administrators/Rich Clabaugh/STAFF Click to Enlarge

6 abilities that matter most:

  1. Design – fundamental business literacy. Want our kids to be design thinkers. Elegant way to solve problems.
  2. Story –
  3. Empathy – hard to outsource or automate. Metrics matter…Jefferson Scale of Physicians’ Empathy (JSPE). Higher the empathy score, the more likely your patient will get better and have lower scores.
  4. Meaning
  5. Symphony: see big picture, combine disparate things into something new.

What employers want-from the National Science Board:

In addition to analytic skills, which are well provided by the current education systems, companies want engineers with passion, life-long learning skills, systems thinking, an ability to innovate, an ability to work in multicultural environments, an ability to understand the business context of engineering, interdisciplinary skills, communication skills, leadership skills, and an ability to change.


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