Business Week recently devoted an entire issue of its magazine to the theme of creativity, suggesting we may be in the midst of a significant transition from the Information Age to the Conceptual or Creative Age. What exactly does art have to do with profit and how do we jump onto this trend?Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, talks about Asia, abundance and automation as three powerful forces that are wreaking havoc with technical and analytical routine jobs in developed countries. His view is that right-brained artists and creators will move into the driver’s seat while knowledge workers linger in the background. The trick is to develop and integrate left and right brain sensibilities into a whole new mind.
Take the case of cell phones. In less than a decade, they’ve gone from being luxury items to necessities that we now accessorize to match our wardrobes. Time magazine reported in 2004 that consumers in the U.S. spent as much on decorative faceplates for their cell phones as they did on the phones themselves. They also purchased an astonishing US$4 billion worth of ring tones. As Pink calls it, high-tech is fast merging with “high-touch” and “high-concept.”
Incidentally, this does not mean that techies will become paupers while artists are transformed into millionaires. Instead, those who are able to integrate the left and right realms will improve their chances for success. Pink describes six right-directed senses or aptitudes that he sees as essential for thriving in the Conceptual Age. They are design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning.
The first sensibility is that we must all be designers. John Heskett, a scholar on design, defines it as fulfilling two needs: utility and significance. Utility is associated with thinking and functionality and is now more widespread and less expensive, thanks to outsourcing. Consequently, significance is moving up the value chain as customers in the age of abundance want to feel and experience pleasure and joy in the products they buy.
Story, the second sensibility, becomes a powerful differentiator in a sea of information when accompanied by an emotional punch. The power of story is that it authenticates and endears us, our products or our services to others. It allows us to arrange information, knowledge, context and emotion into compact, meaningful packages. Robert McKee, who teaches storytelling to screenwriters, states that “story doesn’t replace analytical thinking” but instead “supplements it by enabling us to imagine new perspectives and new worlds.”
The next sensibility is symphony or big picture thinking. Innovators and entrepreneurs are usually the loners who create something new by imagining how relationships fit between seemingly unrelated disciplines. Entrepreneurial guru Michael Gerber calls great entrepreneurs systems thinkers, because they possess that innate ability to see the whole, which is greater than the sum of its parts.
Empathy, the fourth aptitude, involves those who can put themselves in someone else’s shoes and feel what they feel. While often called “touchy feely,” this ability is key to building and strengthening relationships that last. Empathic relationships create camaraderie, friendship and loyalty, whether those relationships are in the workplace or at home. Needless to say, it’s difficult to send empathy overseas, which is why nursing and other helping fields are expected to boom in the coming decade.
Play and meaning are the two final sensibilities that Pink says need to be nurtured and explored. He cites strong correlations among play, laughter and games and increased productivity and fulfilment at work. Pursuing purposeful work that provides meaning is an important goal as consumers are demanding that spirituality and business come together.
If the Conceptual Age is indeed upon us, it makes good sense to take small steps in flexing our creativity muscles each day.

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