Students Today Have to Learn More and Faster Than Their Parents Ever Did -- A Q+A With NY Times Best Selling Author Daniel Pink


Daniel Pink has written incredible books about work and success that have landed him on the New York Times bestsellers list five times. He’s coming to Michigan Ross next week to talk with the Ross community about surviving in a workforce as jobs become more routinized by robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence.

We had a chat with Dan ahead of his visit to campus. He shared his thoughts about the skills students and business schools should focus on developing to thrive in this new world of work, why corporations need to treat their employees better, and how U-M even has a role in his next book!

Join us for Daniel Pink: The Mind of the Future, part of the Joseph and Sally Handleman Lecture Series.

September 12 - 6:30pm

Hill Auditorium

Learn More and RSVP

MICHIGAN ROSS: We’re hearing often that we’re shifting out of the Information Age. What’s next?

PINK: We’re entering the Conceptual Age, the next stage in somewhat predictable cycle of events.

For instance, we moved from the Industrial Age to the Information Age for three key reasons. First, technology could do certain kinds of routine manufacturing work better and cheaper than humans. Second, some goods were cheaper to import from overseas than to make in America. Third, standards of living increased, so consumers wanted offerings (services, etc.) beyond mass-produced goods. That’s how the knowledge worker supplanted the mass production worker.

Now similar forces are propelling us out of the Information Age. Software and Artificial Intelligence can do certain types of knowledge work better and faster than humans. We can “import” certain kinds of knowledge work from overseas (via outsourcing). And as standards of living rise, demand is changing and changing more rapidly, putting a premium on innovation and invention.

All of these forces are moving us to a new era animated by a different economic logic. The central actors now won’t be knowledge workers per se, but creators and empathizers.

MR: As artificial intelligence and automation are rapidly changing workplace roles, what are the most important skills that our students should focus on developing now to prepare them for future success?

PINK: The top level answer is to build skills that are hard to automate, hard to outsource, that deliver on the new demands of rising living standards, and that augment machine intelligence.

The more granular answer is: Communication skills (especially writing); empathy; design thinking; the ability to compose; basic quantitative skills; synthesis and symphonic thinking; grit, the willingness to practice, and a strong work ethic; and anything “multi” — multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary.

MR: Let’s turn that question from the worker perspective to the business perspective: How should business leaders best plan for the rapid changes and advancements in artificial intelligence and automation? What are the biggest changes that will come to their operations?

PINK: Hard to say. But at the very top levels the balance of power has changed. Today, talented individuals need organizations far less than organizations need talented individuals. That is a ginormous wake-up call to businesses about how they treat employees. That said, growing inequality — as well as the chasm between corporate profits and individual incomes — is a wake-up call for businesses of every kind for both moral and economic reasons.

MR: Here at Michigan Ross, we’re focused on giving students the real-world, hands-on education that will best prepare students for the jobs they want. What advice do you have for us and other business schools? How should we best prepare leaders for the future?

PINK: I can offer three broad recommendations:

1. Make sure students can: (a) write well and (b) reason with numbers. Everybody doesn’t have to become a great novelist or mathematician. But the ability to write and to make sense of data are foundational. It still amazes me how many people can’t write a coherent paragraph or don’t know the difference between the mean and the median.

2. Break down the barriers between the university and the “real world,” as you’re doing at Ross. That means internships, real-life case studies, tackling projects in the community, etc.

3. Emphasize empathy as a core competency of any 21st century leader. The problems in the world today — in business and elsewhere — are due, in part, to what one of my kids calls “the empathy deficit."

MR: The idea that traditional careers could be disappearing can be a little scary to hear at first. What’s the upside? Why should we not be scared?

PINK: It *is* scary. If you’re not scared, you’re not paying attention. But the upside is you’ll be learning more and faster than your parents ever did. Perhaps more important, if college students recognize how tumultuous the world is for so many people, they might enact policies to make sure that millions of people are not caught in the downdraft and all of us become a bit less frightened.

MR: We’re excited to hear that your next book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, is coming out in January. Can you give us a preview?

PINK: The book is about all the “when” decisions we make in our lives: When to schedule a class or quit a job or get serious about a person or project. We all know that timing is everything. Trouble is, we think that timing is an art. After two years of research, I’m convinced that timing is a really a science — a broad, multi-disciplinary body of evidence that yields practical lessons for working smarter and living better. Added bonus: The opening scene of Chapter 2 takes place at the University of Michigan!


See best-selling author Dan Pink speak at the Handleman Lecture:

Tuesday, September 12


Hill Auditorium

Learn More and RSVP