How is the economic downturn affecting the rise of right-brain thinking? It seems to be accelerating and deepening the three forces – Abundance, Asia, and Automation — that A Whole New Mind argues have been tilting the scales in favor of artistic, empathic abilities.

Take Asia. As companies cut costs to stay alive, more and more routine work is heading overseas. That’s true even in august, intellectually sophisticated fields such as, er, law and journalism.

The Wall Street Journal reports that cash-strapped clients are “pressuring the law firms they hire to trim fees.” And that has meant:

“More routine work like legal research, due diligence and document review is being done in India at roughly half the cost as in the U.S., outsourcers say. Starting associates at big U.S. firms often bill more than $200 an hour. But an experienced lawyer in India bills at $75 to $100 an hour, roughly the bottom rate for some U.S.  paralegals.”

Meanwhile, NY Times’s Maureen Dowd leaves her comfortable Beltway bubble for the mean streets of Pasadena, where she discovers James McPherson, whose news operation outsources much of its basic reporting to six people in Bangalore.  A one-thousand word article pays $7.50. 

7 Responses to “Outsourced, Esq.”

  1. Art Johnson says:

    Hi Dan,
    I understand and agree that the intellectual resources of the knowledge economy are being outsourced. What I don’t get is the idea that the artistic and creative resources are somehow a sustainable competitve advantage. Don’t people in Bangalore have the same abilities to develop artistic and creative skills? Can’t they then use their creative talents to undermine our strengths in these areas also?

  2. Jenny says:

    I read that article and also immediately thought of your books. As for a possible answer to the previous entry by Art Johnson, I think the evolution of the right brain is more sustainable in the US economy bc our culture and government are more flexible in order for these endeavors to succeed, while in Asia (in my opinion) it isn’t as malleable esp countries in which human rights are often violated.

  3. Dan Pink Dan Pink says:

    Art —

    Good questions. Two responses.

    First, you have to think about the nature of the work itself. It’s relatively easy to outsource work that’s “routine” — that is, a task you can reduce to a formula, a set of rules, or series of steps that produces a single correct answer. That kind of work is pretty simply to define in an email or on a spec sheet and ship off. And the result is pretty simple, too: It’s either right or wrong. But artistic, empathic work is harder to reduce to a simple formula. You could send an email that says, “Please create something the world didn’t know it was missing.” But I’m not sure that would do much. Likewise for empathy. Understanding a customer, reading a sales prospect, leading a team are tasks pretty difficult to reduce to an algorithm.

    Second, I still think that the U.S. in particular has an edge is this regard – thanks to a fairly freewheeling culture that encourages experimentation and doesn’t demonize failure. In both our cultural DNA and our laws and institutions, we’ve created what I think our pretty good conditions for these sorts of abilities to flourish. That doesn’t mean we have a lock. And it doesn’t mean these abilities are exclusively American (or British or Danish or German or Japanese). But it does mean we’ve got a slight head start — which is why we better start moving.

  4. VaishVijay says:

    Dan, Asian mindset is very similar to “The Plan” you have described in “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko”. But lately, this has started to change. The Asian nexters are well exposed to the “freewheeling culture that encourages experimentation”, because of the high-income Gen X parents. Thanks to the hard-earned money that came from the outsourced jobs. And, I thought that the outsourced jobs were not merely “routine”. Hence, it might not be too long before there is competition in right-brainer opportunities.

  5. Shaun says:

    Dan,
    Loved your book, especially the exercises. One question that I had was about macro consequences. As things move overseas for cheaper what will this mean to the young associate at a new firm? Will he have to go overseas to gain experience. The right-brain work usually requires a deeper understanding which often comes from doing the rote tasks and appreciating the nuances.

    Will we see a massive deflationary effect on our economy? Can young people starting out compete without the simple task experience?

  6. Justin Pehoski says:

    Dan,
    I saw this article from the Harvard Business School today and thought of you and A Whole New Mind:

    http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6012.html

    Future MBAs see many jobs as “potentially offshorable”

    Tomorrow’s business leaders see tremendous potential in sending more U.S. jobs offshore — and in keeping economic tasks on the march around the globe as national conditions change, according to research on the Harvard MBA Class of 2009. “Increasingly, jobs are being viewed as groups of tasks that can be bundled, unbundled, and sent to different places,” says Harvard professor Jan Rivkin, one of the faculty members directing the exercise.

  7. Jack says:

    Dan:

    I am the legal tortoise and smiling right now, sort of. 20 years ago when i had the opportunity to work for large law firms in Chicago or to do government work with a traditional pension, I decided to go into a government field. Currently, I love the 6 weeks off, exciting work, and defined benefit pension. I’m hoping to retire with about 90 percent of my six figure take home in 15 years……but I wouldn’t mind being about to take a good 3 months off to travel or to get away from the work load.

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