Saturday, June 13, 2009


I love flying into Pearson International Airport. Almost as soon as the jet descends through the cloud cover, you can begin to see the intricate network of buildings, roads and highways that make up Canada’s largest city. With my face pressed to the window, I usually spend the last few minutes of the flight trying to organize the jumble of images below, much like you would pre-sort the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle before attempting to assemble them into one complete picture.

Last week was different. As the rooftops of Toronto’s west end warehouse district came into view, it was as if I saw them for the very first time. I urged my husband to look out the window and asked him if he saw the same thing that I did. We both nodded at the same time.

“Opportunity,” I said. Brian agreed. Thousands of squares meters - perhaps even kilometers – of flat rooftops stretched out as far as the eye could see.

“Solar panels,” I said.

“Probably enough to power the entire city,” he replied.

What made our revelation so interesting (at least to me) is that I’d never had it before. I’ve been working on finding environmental solutions for 20 years, and have probably flown into Pearson at least a dozen times during those 20 years. It had never once occurred to me that this was a perfect way to effectively utilize a whole lot of wasted real estate.

While I’d like to take all of the credit for my stroke of genius, a little credit must also go to Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind” (Riverhead Books, 2005). It was Pink’s book that helped me to see opportunity where once I only saw rooftops.

What’s interesting is that Pink’s book (subtitled “Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”) isn’t about environmental solutions at all. It’s about transcendence. In it, he argues that three factors have joined forces to push us towards a brave new world.

The first factor, abundance, has provided us with so much stuff that simply having things is no longer enough.

“For most of history,” writes Pink, “our lives were defined by scarcity. Today the defining feature of social, economic, and cultural life in much of the world is abundance.”

The result, according to Pink, is a society that craves design, empathy and play in the most mundane of items. Pink points to the toilet brush designed by renowned architect Michael Graves as a shining example of this need for extraordinary excellence in ordinary things.

Pink says the second factor is Asia. With literally millions of white collars jobs being outsourced to low-cost countries like India, China and Russia, North American society must transform or die. Instead of solving routine problems, we must learn how to synthesize the big picture, according to Pink.

The third and final factor is automation. It is Pink’s position that computers are so much better, faster and stronger at jobs that require logic, calculation and sequential thinking than we humans.

“What’s more,” writes Pink, “computers don’t fatigue. They don’t get headaches. They don’t choke under pressure or sulk over losses.”

The result, says Pink, is that we need to think differently. We need to connect the dots (or the rooftops) by understanding, “the connection between diverse, seemingly separate, disciplines. Only by learning how to link what appear to be unconnected elements can we create something new.

Pink offers something he’s calls The Six Senses: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning; critical tools for transcendence. And that, according to Pink and others that he quotes in the book, is what we crave.

“The most striking feature of contemporary culture is the unslaked craving for transcendence,” stated Columbia University’s Andrew Delbanco.

“A Whole New Mind” isn’t your ordinary book. It contains exercises, recommended magazines and other publications, websites and self-assessment tools.

While Pink’s analysis is based on social and economic transcendence, his approach can easily be applied to environmental solutions as well, which perhaps proves his point about looking outside the box for unique and creative solutions.

As another great mind (Albert Einstein) once observed,

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

From my view, “A Whole New Mind”, provides a whole new way to look at those problems – and rooftops, too.


For more on the transcendent work of Daniel Pink, (including some amazing travel tips) go to


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