Book Notes: Where we read and condense books down to their main takeaways for creatives, with a look at our own notes from reading.
I have to thank Greg Manchess for recommending this book. We got into a conversation at IMC, I believe, about empathy, and he said he had just finished this book and it was great. I ordered it right then and there. And while it did have an interesting section on empathy, I was pleased to find it had a whole lot more.
The book presents the idea that the world has gone through technological ages that start in the first world and trickle down to the third world. In the Industrial Age, which started in the 1800s Industrial Revolution and lasted thru World War II and into the 50s, the emphasis was on manufacturing, and the key skill, or value, that people needed to have to work was strength. Physical Stamina would help you stay on the factory floor or the assembly line and work your shifts. Then we transitioned into the Information Age, which started in the 60s and lasted till the 2000s. This was the time when manufacturing got outsourced to the second and third worlds, and the first world focused on intellectual power – products of data crunching. Computer programming, data entry, engineering, business management, finance. Now the Information work is being automated by machines and computers or outsourced to other countries (call centers and programming farms in India, for example) and we are entering into what the author calls the Conceptual Age. The Conceptual Age is all about creativity and ideas, and it will focus on “High Impact” and “High Touch” skills like empathy.
The first half of the book is focused on left-brain thinking vs. right-brain thinking. The left part of your brain is considered to be more rational & linear. The right side of your brain is more imaginative and emotional. This comes as no surprise to any artist familiar with the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. The right side of the brain is home to empathy and creativity, the skills most needed in the new Conceptual Age, while the rational logical linear left side was in charge of the previous two ages of the mind.
After a nice breakdown and some really good examples of Left-brain and Right-brain thinking, the author moves on to the Conceptual Age in detail, and what 6 qualities will help us adapt to, and be successful in, this new Conceptual Age. (Spoiler: Artists are ahead of the game). These qualities — or “6 Senses” as the author calls them, are Meaning, Design, Story, Empathy, Symphony, and Play. While none of these qualities will be new concepts to most creatives, I will say he does a great job of boiling those qualities down to great definitions, and gives great examples and anecdotes. This book will help you take a look at your skills in a concrete way and spin them to your advantage.
“The Right Brain is the picture, the Left Brain is the thousand words.”
I found it really interesting to see how business thinks of artists, and to hear how much stress is being put on creative thinking — especially in tech companies. Supposedly “An MFA is the new MBA” and many consulting firms are hiring artists to assist with brainstorming even for the least-artistic industries.
“People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it.”
What I also thought was fascinating was the author’s way of looking at the current state of the world — the first world has greater abundance than ever, but we aren’t happier for it. Maybe we’re even less happy. What’s missing? Meaning. And what brings meaning to life? Art. Sounds like more and more people are figuring that out, because the “Rise of the Creative Class” is a definite trend the past 5-10 years. Our economy has shifted it’s base to content and ideas, and it’s creatives who are excelling at that new economy.
“The most striking feature of contemporary culture is the unslaked craving for transcendence.”
This book was worthwhile reading for any creative, and especially ones who work with corporate clients or who have full time day jobs with larger companies – the text can get a little buzz-wordy, but the concepts are clear and helpful to be boiled down to their essences. At the end of the day, this book is an optimistic read for artists – the author is convinced that creative people are going to be perfectly placed and in demand as the conceptual age rolls in.
Regardless of whether you are interested in applying your creativity to larger industries and companies, thinking about your creative projects thru the lens of the 6 senses is really quite useful. Next time you’re connecting a new piece in your portfolio, take a moment and ask, am I satisfying the elements of Design, Story, Meaning, Empathy, Play and Symphony?
Background on the “notes” part of Book Notes: When I am reading a book, I am a obsessive underliner (especially of non-fiction books). After I’m done, I copy anything I want to remember into my sketchbook. It’s kind of like making a personal cliff’s note. This column started because many of the people who have seen my sketchbooks over the years wanted access to some of the pages on books or lectures they were interested in (I make the same kind of pages for classes or seminars or talks too). Since I am reading books through the lens of an artist, I wanted to start sharing these notes and condensed reviews with other artists. If you lil the tone of the notes, then pick up the book.