MARQUETTE - Dan Pink's grandparents didn't have a car when they were in their 40s. In fact, his grandmother never even learned how to drive.
"(Today) there are more automobiles in the country than licensed drivers," said Pink, who delivered the morning keynote speech at the 2008 Upper Great Lakes Economic and Workforce Development Summit Thursday. "The product outnumbers the users; that's what I mean by abundance."
Pink, who wrote the book "A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future," spoke to about 300 people from the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and lower Michigan about the three factors that tilted America's "economic scale." According to Pink, these are the abundance of products available, the competition of the Asian markets and automation of services.
To compete in such a new economic climate, Pink said workers need to make use of the right side of their brains - which controls artistic and inventive skills. Pink demonstrated this by noting that the largest major at Northern Michigan University, where the summit was held, is art and design.
"What it represents is the shift in the economy," Pink said. "What I'm talking about is design thinking, problem solving. What you need to do is to recognize that design has become part of the literacy of a business person."
As an example, he explained how an art and design student from New York came up with a better design for medicine bottles because her grandparents could not keep their medications separated. In the end, the Target store chain adopted the design.
Pink also said narrative communication, big picture thinking, empathy and doing something meaningful to leave an imprint on the world are all skills that will be important in the new economy he envisions.
Some attendees of the summit - such as June Schaefer of NMU's education department, who is studying Pink's book with her students - discussed the issue with the author after his speech.
Pink said more interdisciplinary education will help get students to use their "right brains" more and be more successful in today's world.
Also at the summit, Joe Esbrook, director of business and community development for Michigan Works in the U.P., briefly talked about a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor that will finance a regional economic impact study, aiming to improve economics in the U.P.
Starting soon, the Wisconsin consulting group NorthStar Economics will conduct focus sessions with residents of 17 northern Michigan and Wisconsin counties, asking them about their vision of the U.P.'s future. After collecting appropriate information and data, Esbrook said NorthStar will put together an action plan that can be used to establish employment opportunities and sustainable growth in the U.P. The afternoon keynote speaker was Ed Gordon, president of Imperial Consulting Cooperation. Gordon focused on how by 2010, technology, globalization and other factors will change the workforce of America.
According to Gordon, 69.1 percent of all Michigan students graduate - a number that is below the nation's average. As for Michigan students graduating from college - that's below the U.S. average as well.
Solutions to a workforce meltdown? According to Gordon, they are a business culture change, a career culture change and community action. A teleconference with U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, also occurred.