Look for Ways to Measure the Right Brain

Daniel Pink’s work has been called a “miracle” by Tom Peters, while Tom Friedman has called A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future “my favorite business book.”

The book proclaims that “right-brainers will rule the future” and says job candidates who can piece together and find patterns and new ideas in disparate pieces of information, somewhat like a symphony conductor, are becoming more valuable to organizations than those who can master book-learning but lack the types of conceptual skills great designers have.

In A Whole New Mind, he writes:

The PSAT, the SAT, the GMAT, the LSAT, the MCAT ? they require logic and analysis, and reward test-takers for zeroing in, computer-like, on a single correct answer. The exercise is linear, sequential, and bounded by time. You answer one question with one right answer. Then you move on to the next question and the next and the next until time runs out ? but the SAT-ocracy is in its dying days.

We asked Pink (who will be speaking at ERE’s conference this fall in Washington, D.C.) about the book, and what recruiters can learn from his research.

ERE: What can recruiters do to adapt to these dying days of the SAT-ocracy?

Daniel Pink: Two things. First is my argument that the abilities that now matter at work are more of these right-brain abilities than these left-brain abilities. The logical, linear, sequential are also important, but the differentiator is these right-brain abilities: artistry, empathy, inventiveness. Big-picture-thinking people who have mastered those sets of abilities are increasingly the game-changers and most valuable to recruit.

Second, those right-brain abilities that are hard to outsource and hard to automate are very difficult to screen for and test for, just like those left-brain abilities are. That’s a conundrum and it makes recruiting for those kinds of abilities a challenge. There [are] a few assessments out that get at some of these things, like the Herrmann Brain Dominance Inventory. In general, what you do is look at proxies of these abilities, like whether you have graduated from a design college ? you look for people who have ‘multi-ness’ on their resume, people who have a multidisciplinary background, multifunctional background, people who have demonstrated the ability to work in different functions in different countries; those become proxies for whole mindedness.

Also, and I know this is Recruiting 101, but you look for results. Someone who has been a successful sales manager ? who has increased their numbers over X amount of time, or maybe someone who has introduced a new product. Chances are, the abilities that went into producing those accomplishments were some of those right-brain abilities. Without some quantitative assessments, you’re often looking for proxies of these abilities or are looking for results and you’re surmising that the results were achieved because of these sorts of abilities.

ERE: Yeah, you know it when you see it. I mean, Magic Johnson was just a kid when someone was able to notice that he was “able to see plays before they developed.” He’s still putting that sort of intelligence to work as an entrepreneur.

Daniel Pink: Magic Johnson is a great example. The reason he was such a great player was inscrutable but he goes to a crappy [basketball] school like Michigan State and turns them into an NCAA title holder and he goes to the Lakers and the Lakers have a run of championships. And in business he’s one of the most successful former athletes around.

There isn’t a good way to screen for those kinds of abilities. I’d be curious to see if anyone is developing these kinds of metrics. Someone who could develop a metric to understand or predict these inscrutable right-brain abilities is going to do a lot for the recruiting industry.

ERE: Part of it is something inside of you, something that drives you.

Daniel Pink: When I went around [partly for the book Free Agent Nation] and interviewed all these people who left large organizations to work for themselves, what was animating them, driving them, was this set of values, a psychological attitude. Those values were animating the most talented people in the workforce whether they were working for themselves or a corporation.

ERE: Though I suppose there are people who don’t have some of the desires I’ve read about in your books, such as those who just want a job and want to get it over with and go home.

Daniel Pink: There are people like that. Those people don’t contribute a hell of a lot to the organizations. That’s not a perfectly difficult recruiting challenge and a perfectly lucrative recruiting challenge. ‘I work from 9 to 5 and I do exactly what I’m told and I won’t be any trouble’ — you can put an ad on Craigslist, Monster, and The Washington Post and you can get people to do that. You are not recruiting talent; you’re recruiting interchangeable parts.

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ERE: OK, so what about talent? What motivates talented people, the ones who are the challenge to recruit?

Daniel Pink: There are two kinds of motivation. There’s extrinsic, when you do something for the reward, the grade, the promotion, the money: the extrinsic validation. Intrinsic is when you do something for the sake of doing it, for the task itself. A lot of the extrinsic motivation in schools and organizations can actually have a negative effect on motivation: grades, promotions, bonuses. That’s not to say rewards are always bad. But [intrinsic] motivation is the essential ingredient in high performance.

ERE: For recruiters, I suppose motivating people intrinsically is done by what’s sometimes called employment branding and getting people excited about the meaning and experience of a company and a job.

Daniel Pink: That’s part of it. If you think about it, it’s the sort of things they would do even if they weren’t paid because they enjoy it so much, or those ‘flow’ times when you lose a sense of time and you’re in the moment. There are ways to configure organizations to maximize that intrinsic motivation. There are some conditions in the workplace you can set for people who have some intrinsic motivation, to enhance that, give them autonomy and, as you said, give them an organization with a sense of purpose, allow them to achieve a sense of mastery. A recruiter would want to recruit people who are intrinsically motivated but it doesn’t mean every intrinsically motivated person will outperform every extrinsically motivated person. But in general, intrinsically motivated people achieve more and perform higher and contribute more to organizations.

ERE: You just got back from two months in Japan, which has been rated by The Economist as the world’s most innovative country. How does all this about motivation play out in the workplace there?

Daniel Pink: One of the things I noticed in Japan is there’s this widespread yearning for significant meaning and purpose. The feeling is almost palpable there. For a long time the culture, and of the workforce in particular, just submerged those kinds of thoughts, those kinds of desires. This idea that people are looking for work that satisfies more than the economic — people want jobs that have purpose, meaning, significance — is a big deal in the United States, but to my surprise, it turned out to be a big deal there too.

ERE: How do you measure this intrinsic motivation?

Daniel Pink: There are a few instruments that can do it if you’re looking for a Myers-Briggs-style paper-and-pencil assessment. If you’re recruiting executives, CEOs, if you’re recruiting people at the top of the labor market, recruiters generally don’t subject people to a wrath of paper-and-pencil tests. You have to be [learning] that through your conversations and seeing what makes them tick.

ERE: And of course seeing what they’ve done.

Daniel Pink: Yes, I’m a big believer in results. Business is about outputs. You take a group of people and the majority of people are deploying more right-brain abilities, and chances are they love what they do and want to do a great job at it. But as for an individual recruiting decision, if you have someone who has consistently delivered results in a tough industry, that speaks for itself.


8 Comments on “Look for Ways to Measure the Right Brain

  1. Just happened to wander over here as one of my reports is running…

    Myers-Briggs is not a pre-employment screening tool, nor is the style of Myers-Briggs associated with that.

    ‘The purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
    is to make the theory of personality types described by C.G. Jung understandable and useful in peoples lives.’


    Myers-Briggs does not forecast performance or capacity to perform, there is no right or wrong personality type. Common misperception, but still misperception.

    Best regards,

    Russ Moon
    MBTI Qualified Facilitator

  2. This was a fascinating interview and very encouraging to read. I look forward to meeting Mr. Pink in DC in
    the fall!

  3. This is an interesting perspective on the workforce, but I’m curious if the same principle will hold true within HR. From my experience, I have seen very few HR departments that had sufficient left brain, analytical power to meet needs in reporting, planning, and linking HR issues to business value. I think future HR super stars will need left brain abilities to help HR establish themselves as a strategic business partner.

  4. Right-brain/Left Brain is a fun subject…but don’t use it for hiring unless you can prove it predicts job performance..Stories and anecdotes won’t do, and since there is no research I am aware of that proves RBLB scoresa are associated with job performance, leave it on the shelf.

    As far as abstract thinking is concerned, it varies from job to job…too much and you get boredom…too little and you get mistakes…Besides, measuring abstract thinking ability will probably have substantial adverse impact…do you want to go there?

  5. I wish to say that the article was well-interviewed and well-written. At the same time, I find it amusing to read that the traits most needed by Corporate America are those that these organizations do their best to weed out prior to hire: true creativity, ‘out-of-the box’ thinking, and a willingness to question the status-quo. If you are looking for such people, it would be best to first create a culture where the rank-and-file are encouraged to occasionally ask ‘why’ and say ‘no’ to superiors, without negative consequences.

    IMHO, it is actually quite easy to locate such ‘right-brain’ individuals, if you are prepared to look outside the usual channels- it would probably be ideal to have your organization’s most creative recruiters look for your organization’s most creative future employees and evaluated by your most creative managers. Organizations should also not equate creativity with intelligence or achievement- in my recent experience with a prestigious organization, the recruitment of highly-intelligent and successful individuals was the norm; it was one of the least creative environments in which I have ever worked.

    In the final analysis, corporate leaders should recognize that if they are in dynamic industries, it might be best to have a number of creative non-conformists around to help keep things stirred up, but should be prepared for the consequences.

    Thank You,

  6. Todd’s interview with Daniel Pink was fascinating, especially in light of Stephen Covey’s key Global Seismic Shifts cited in his The Eighth Habit i.e. the movement of wealth-creation from financial to human capital. The sea change in value addition to the world’s products is now coming from knowledge work. Deconstructing knowledge work into the classical three skill categories, the underestimated transferable skills increasingly trump the more traditionally valued content and technical skills most often valued in organizational world. Too often hidden amongst those transferable skills are precisely those ideational and conceptual skills Pink focuses on as being critical in the emerging global world and he correctly cites the world of type as being fertile ground for finding people with those skills.

    For the past 31 years I have worked with organizations and individuals on career development and related issues. With more than 1700 individual clients, I have discovered that the skills they are most impassioned about using can be predicted from their type and temperament. How those ‘all-star’ skills are configured is the basis for my concept of SkillsDNA but the bottom line is that each of us is wired best for certain kinds of work and that hard wiring, if honored, will generally lead to much more career satisfaction and better performance, all things being equal. However, the ringer in the equation is the individual’s self-esteem. People rise to the level of success that their self-esteem can absorb. Working in alignment with one’s natural work roles and skills actually reinforces or enhances self-esteem so we may then close the circle. Any powerful model of career assessment must begin with the hard-wiring of the person as best expressed in his type and temperament.

  7. I enjoyed the article about D. Pink’s book. You would think that as a physician (general surgeon, I might be able to comment from a professional perspective. Well, you’d be wrong. My wife, a neurologist, knows little more about this RBLB dichotomy than is described in the article. As physicians, we deal with negative deviations form ‘normal.’ We almost never get into discussions of optimizing potential. That is for sports medicine (highly objective and results driven) and the slightly less objective world of the motivational experts, sociologists, psychologists, TV evangelists and politicians.
    Now that the left brain has spoken, the right gets a turn. There is something more to being human than money and status. It would be nice to define it and that’s the point. It is incomprehensble to the LB. We know it when we see it. Apple has made it into a business model. As far as I know productive RB activity is not otherwise predictable in an individual and is probably never going to take off as a recruiting tool. I would suggest that if one were looking for RB people to fill a position, they have no further to look than all the languishing resume’s on Monster. Organizations hire qualifications…not capabilities.

  8. It’s hard to know where to jump in on this one, or not…

    Looking at the problem from the inside out, it appears to me that evaluating people’s right brain capability is not so much the issue (as mentioned, it’s more about qualifications and perhaps performance, very narrowly defined) but how we define the job. Maybe I missed something, but I don’t see many jobs that a person with the drive and creativity to improve a business would leap to accept. Business hires the best drones to fill drone positions.

    When Business recognizes the need to have a different kind of person and a different kind of culture powering the enterprise, then there will be no problem identifying people with the ‘right’ abilities.
    George Watson

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