Minds for Modern Times

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 08-02-2007

Howard Gardner, the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of more than 20 books, is perhaps best known for his theory of multiple intelligences. That concept was laid out in a landmark 1993 book. His latest idea: Individuals will require specific cognitive traits to ensure success in a global society marked by constant change. These traits are outlined in his new book, Five Minds for the Future (Harvard Business School Press, April 2007). Aiming not just at educators but organizational leaders, Gardner illustrates how these "minds" will be critical in the years ahead. An excerpt of the book follows.

For several decades, I've studied how the mind develops, how it is organized, what it's like in its fullest expanse. In Five Minds for the Future, I concern myself with the kinds of minds that people will need if they—if we—are to thrive in the world to come. Why the shift from description to prescription? In the interconnected world in which we now live, it is not enough to state what each individual or group needs to survive on its own turf. In the long run, it is not possible for parts of the world to thrive while others remain desperately poor and deeply frustrated. The world of the future—with its ubiquitous search engines, robots and other computational devices—will demand capacities that until now have been mere options. To meet this new world on its own terms, we should begin to cultivate these capacities now. With these "minds," a person will be well equipped to deal with what is expected, as well as what cannot be anticipated.

The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking—a distinctive mode of cognition that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, craft or profession. Much research confirms that it takes up to 10 years to master a discipline. The disciplined mind also knows how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding. Without at least one discipline under his belt, the individual is destined to march to someone else's tune.

The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons. Valuable in the past, the capacity to synthesize becomes ever more crucial as information continues to mount at dizzying rates.

Building on discipline and synthesis, the creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers. Ultimately, these creations must find acceptance among knowledgeable consumers. By virtue of its anchoring in territory that is not yet rule-governed, the creating mind seeks to remain at least one step ahead of even the most sophisticated computers and robots.

Recognizing that nowadays one can no longer remain within one's shell or on one's home territory, the respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these "others," and seeks to work effectively with them. In a world where we are all interlinked, intolerance or disrespect is no longer a viable option.

Proceeding on a level more abstract than the respectful mind, the ethical mind ponders the nature of one's work and the needs and desires of the society in which one lives. This mind conceptualizes how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest, and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all. The ethical mind then acts on the basis of these analyses.

These five minds are particularly at a premium in the world of today, and will be even more so tomorrow. They span both the cognitive spectrum and the human enterprise—in that sense they are comprehensive, global. But the task of cultivating minds goes far beyond the charge of teachers and professors; it constitutes a major challenge to all individuals who work with other persons.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business School Press. Excerpted from Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner. Copyright 2006 Howard Gardner, All Rights Reserved.