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Northwestern University

Paths: What Did You Do with Your Arts and Sciences Degree?

Daniel Pink ’86 became a noted author and cultural critic

The last “real” job Daniel Pink held was in the White House, where he spent a few years as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore.

Pink left that gig in 1997, and since then, he’s been a self-described “free agent” — authoring five best-selling books about the changing nature of work, appearing on CNN, ABC and NPR as a business analyst, and giving lectures to corporations and universities around the world.

His TED talk about the “puzzle of motivation” has had more than 6 million views. His articles about technology and business have been published in The New York Times, Fast Company and the Harvard Business Review. And last year, Thinkers 50 named Daniel Pink one of the top 15 business thinkers in the world.

How did Pink become such an influential cultural critic?

Pink’s own account is a modest tale of a linguistics major who went to law school and decided he liked to study law more than practice it — a guy with Northwestern-bred writing skills who needed a job and ended up working in the White House.

“I decided to work in politics, work for campaigns, and then I just kind of fell into a job as a speechwriter for U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich,” Pink says. “That job was the perfect combination of economics and linguistics. On some level, my undergraduate preparation was far more valuable than my law school preparation for that type of work.”

Pink also took every writing course he could at Northwestern. “So when the Gore speechwriting job came up, there were relatively few people available to do it,” he adds, explaining how eventually he tired of politics and decided to pursue his true passion — writing.

“From the time I was at Northwestern, I was writing on the side. Even when I was working in government, I was writing newspaper and magazine articles. Eventually I realized that what I was doing on the side was probably what I should be doing as the center,” says Pink, who began working on his first best-seller, Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself, soon after leaving his job in the White House.

Pink’s subsequent books, which have been translated into 34 languages and have sold more than 2 million copies worldwide, have explored everything from human motivation to right-brain thinking. He’s even written a graphic novel, Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need, in which he shares his unconventional career advice.

On June 21, Pink will deliver the commencement address to Weinberg’s Class of 2014. He’s likely to urge graduates to approach their lives with the verve of his character Johnny Bunko: “Think strength, not weakness,” “leave an imprint” and “make excellent mistakes.”

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