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Why 'Multiple Intelligence' Is a Better Way to Think About Having Smarts
When it comes to leaders of organizations, they not only need to have some blend of intelligences themselves, but it’s very, very important for them to realize that not everybody who they work with is going to think the same way.
Howard Gardner is a developmental psychologist and the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He holds positions as Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.
Among numerous honors, Gardner received a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1981. In 1990, he was the first American to receive the University of Louisville's Grawemeyer Award in Education and in 2000 he received a Fellowship from the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 2005 and again in 2008 he was selected by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of 100 most influential public intellectuals in the world. He has received honorary degrees from twenty-two colleges and universities, including institutions in Ireland, Italy, Israel, and Chile.
The author of over twenty books translated into twenty-seven languages, and several hundred articles, Gardner is best known in educational circles for his theory of multiple intelligences, a critique of the notion that there exists but a single human intelligence that can be assessed by standard psychometric instruments. During the past twenty five years, he and colleagues at Project Zero have been working on the design of performance-based assessments, education for understanding, and the use of multiple intelligences to achieve more personalized curriculum, instruction, and assessment. In the middle 1990s, Gardner and his colleagues launched The GoodWork Project. "GoodWork" is work that is excellent in quality, personally engaging, and exhibits a sense of responsibility with respect to implications and applications. Researchers have examined how individuals who wish to carry out good work succeed in doing so during a time when conditions are changing very quickly, market forces are very powerful, and our sense of time and space is being radically altered by technologies, such as the web. Gardner and colleagues have also studied curricula. Gardner's books have been translated into twenty-seven languages. Among his books are The Disciplined Mind: Beyond Facts and Standardized Tests, The K-12 Education that Every Child Deserves (Penguin Putnam, 2000) Intelligence Reframed (Basic Books, 2000), Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet (Basic Books, 2001), Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People's Minds (Harvard Business School Press, 2004), and Making Good: How Young People Cope with Moral Dilemmas at Work (Harvard University Press, 2004; with Wendy Fischman, Becca Solomon, and Deborah Greenspan). These books are available through the Project Zero eBookstore.
Currently Gardner continues to direct the GoodWork project, which is concentrating on issues of ethics with secondary and college students. In addition, he co-directs the GoodPlay and Trust projects; a major current interest is the way in which ethics are being affected by the new digital media.
In 2006 Gardner published Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons, The Development and Education of the Mind, and Howard Gardner Under Fire. In Howard Gardner Under Fire, Gardner's work is examined critically; the book includes a lengthy autobiography and a complete biography. In the spring of 2007, Five Minds for the Future was published by Harvard Business School Press. Responsibility at Work, which Gardner edited, was published in the summer of 2007.
Howard Gardner: In any workplace now there are many different roles and there are many different ways in which people can fulfill those roles. And here’s where the idea of Multiple Intelligence is very helpful, because indeed some of the intelligences are quite cognitive, like linguistic and logical and mathematical. Others have to do with how you deal with other people — interpersonal intelligence. And of course some of the intelligences are very much tied to the nature of the work. If you’re in advertising, your musical intelligence or spatial intelligence are going to be very important because those are the media you use.
If I’m in a position of decision-making in the workplace, one of the things I would ask is in what way can this notion of Multiple Intelligences be helpful to me? One way is just getting to know the employees better. And to think about opportunities either at the workplace or extracurricular things outside of the workplace, which would be things that the person would like to do and enjoy doing.
People move if they don’t feel engaged. And there are many, many ways to engage people and it’s best if the work itself engages you. But it’s certainly better if you’re engaged by the workplace, the people who are there, the water cooler, and the opportunities than if you’re just seen as being smart or not so smart, which would be the pre-MI way of thinking of things.
Another thing is putting together teams. And I would use myself as an example. I put together research teams and I used to look for people who were just like me. And after a while, I thought, “That’s kind of stupid. One of me is enough.” And now I try to put together teams with students who are colleagues where they have complementary kinds of intelligences. And there’s huge amounts of evidence from other researchers that problems are more likely to be solved if you put together people who have different expertises rather than just putting together every person looking the same.
When it comes to leaders of organizations, they not only need to have some blend of intelligences themselves, but it’s very, very important for them to realize that not everybody who they work with is going to think the same way. And the more they can pluralize their messages, present them in different kinds of ways to make use of other people who have other kinds of intelligences, the better.
"When it comes to leaders of organizations, they not only need to have some blend of intelligences themselves, but it’s very, very important for them to realize that not everybody who they work with is going to think the same way."
Revered developmental psychologist Howard Gardner offers an informed take on the clearest path to efficiency and engagement in the workplace.
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