Author Daniel Pink labels interdisciplinary education as key for success

Daniel Pink discusses how to survive in an automated age in Hill Auditorium Tuesday evening.

Daniel Pink discusses how to survive in an automated age in Hill Auditorium Tuesday evening. Buy this photo
Brian Austin Kosasih/Daily
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 10:07pm

An audience of 3,500 in Hill Auditorium burst into applause at the sight of The New York Times best-selling author Daniel Pink’s “Fear the Khaki” T-shirt on Tuesday evening. Pink donned the shirt as part of the first anecdote during his presentation, “The Mind of the Future: How to Survive an Outsourced, Automated Age.” Pink’s talk highlighted useful lessons on what it takes to be successful in the workplace as society shifts from the information age to the conceptual age.

Aside from an author, Daniel Pink is also a well known business strategist who was named one of the top ten business minds in the world by Thinkers50 in 2015. His TED Talk on science and motivation has also been viewed almost 19 million times. Pink also served as former Vice President Al Gore’s chief speechwriter from 1995 to 1997.

Pink’s presentation was a part of the Joseph and Sally Handleman Lecture Series, which presents the University of Michigan with the nation’s leading experts in areas of business, academia and government.

Business freshman Drew Tyson was one of the students taking advantage of the lecture. Before the event, Tyson was looking forward to hearing Pink’s lessons — especially those concerning future success.

“I want to study finance and accounting and sort of how to manage your money and tips for being successful when I’m older, so I hope to learn some stuff about that,” he said, explaining how his interest in business prompted him to attend the event.   

Pink’s presentation highlighted Asia, automation and abundance as the three main challenges that individuals face in today’s economy. He reflected on how Asia’s large and capable population has resulted in outsourcing of many jobs that are based solely on routine.

Pink also noted many professions, such as accounting and law, are slowly becoming automated as the steps for each job are becoming more and more present on the internet. Finally, Pink explained the large amount of goods present in the country is also becoming problematic for the working class.

“There is this incessant need to come up with something new or create something better,” Pink said.  

Pink also touched on the importance of students becoming T-shaped; in other words, having not only a specialized knowledge of a certain subject, but also a more general understanding of other subjects.

He acknowledged the danger of hyper-specialization in today’s economy, especially given how quickly it can change.

“You can specialize in a programming language that ends up disappearing, or you can specialize in a type of technology that ends up becoming obsolete pretty quickly,” he said. “I think that some specialization is okay, but I think hyper-specialization at this age is really dangerous because the world is going to be different in 20 years. What you need is a versatile portfolio of skills, a great mindset and the ability to learn.”

The presentation also highlighted the value of the arts and creativity in today’s economy. However, Pink acknowledged the challenge many of this generation’s students face in terms of feeling the need to focus only on developing logical skills, calling for educators to incorporate a multi-faceted definition of subjects included in STEM fields.

“I think that we short-sell STEM by thinking of it as a purely reductive linear thing — it’s not,” Pink said. “I think that in our school system we often think of STEM as the AP biology where you’re answering multiple choice questions, when that’s not what STEM is. It’s exploration, experimentation, multidisciplinary, teams working together. You basically have to give your generation a reality check on what STEM actually is.”

Pink ended his talk with an explanation of benefits of the arts — specifically regarding composition, coordination and compassion. He explained while not everyone might be naturally gifted in areas like art or music, they can work towards having sufficient skills. He commended both the Ross School of Business and the University on taking an interdisciplinary approach to education.

“I think that being part of the overall University of Michigan is really valuable because tonight somewhere there was a dance performance, there was a play, there was a concert,” he said. “You’re not in just a specialized area. I think that Ross lodged in the context of the U of M is in a pretty good place.”

In terms of the future, Pink speculated the economy will focus more on a search for meaning.

“I think that one thing I can see happening is the economy becoming more focused on the search for meaning. I think that human beings in general want to live a life of meaning which can be hard to do if you’re just trying to survive, and if more people aren’t simply trying to survive you might encourage more people to try and find a sense of meaning.”