By Mike Wright

A Whole New Mind

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November 11, 2010 | Categories: Articles & Insights

I recently read that Oprah was invited to give the commencement address at Stanford University, and that she gave each graduate a copy of the book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, by business writer Daniel Pink. Well I wasn't about ready to let all of those Stanford grads rule the world, so I picked up my own copy and began to read. Here are the first two lines of Daniel's book…

"The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind—computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands."

How's that for laying it all out? After reading the introduction I was a little skeptical (ok a lot skeptical), especially since I work for an office full of number crunching, spreadsheet lovin', financial geeks. Not to mention that we're in the business of teaching people how to read financial statements (i.e. crunch numbers). So I had my guard way up and was prepared to punch holes in Daniel's ideas, but quickly discovered that Daniel was on to something. Further, to my surprise, I found many of his ideas in lockstep with the concept of business acumen. Read this for example…

"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, crossing boundaries, and being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole."

And now compare that to this statement on our website…

"We find that business acumen is often a missing link in leadership and management training today. While many aspects of business are taught in colleges and universities (i.e. accounting, legal, marketing, medicine), these skills are specialized and segmented. This practice produces an excellent understanding of the profession, or skill set needed to get a degree, but creates distance from the whole of running or impacting a business. We believe that every employee needs to understand how his or her role fits into the big picture and how their decisions impact the business in it's entirety."

Our point is this; you can be financially literate and lack business acumen. And Daniel's point aligns pretty closely with ours; employees who understand the big picture (business acumen) will be more valuable than number crunching MBAs (financial literacy). Now before you attempt to change your logical, linear, by-the-numbers, way of doing things - you need to know that Daniel argues that left-brain thinking still matters, but that it's simply not enough. We make a similar argument to learning and development leaders every day - having an understanding of the financials matters, but it's not enough. Think about it, who would you rather hire as your store manager: Someone who can read a P&L and define all of its terms, or someone who knows how to think creatively and make decisions that will positively impact the P&L?

Daniel challenges readers to develop a Whole New Mind, one that doesn't rely exclusively on traditional left-brain attributes. Likewise, Acumen Learning challenges employees to develop their business acumen - to develop a new way of thinking about their role as a business leader. I think we're onto something! In business the future will be ruled by employees who combine traditional left-brain thinking with right-brain qualities like artistry, empathy, inventiveness, and big-picture thinking - and to me that sounds like someone who could make a real difference at company - or in other words it sounds like someone with business acumen.