Monday, January 18, 2010

Book - "Five Minds for the Future" (Howard Gardner)

Title: Five Minds for the Future
Author: Howard Gardner
Publisher: Harvard Business School Press, 2006.

This book is not exactly ground-breaking. It is an extension of Howard Gardner's famous theory of Multiple-Intelligences proposed in 1983. MI theory essentially talks about the flaws of conventional thinking surrounding the definition of intelligence. Every person is different and has various levels of intelligences in different areas. Gardner summarizes his MI theory as:
"According to MI theory, all human beings possess a number of relatively autonomous cognitive capabilities, each of which I designate as a separate intelligence." (Howard Gardner, Five Minds, p4)

This book attempts to build upon this theory by making it more futuristic , rather than mere diagnostic.  The five minds essentially are:

1) Disciplinary Mind: where one masters the major schools of thought (like history, science and maths) PLUS one main craft-skill.

2) Synthesizing Mind: In a world of increased information flow, and data glut, it is highly essential to be able to make some sense out of it all, by processing the disparate bits of information into a meaningful whole.

3) Creating Mind: This is the ability to bring new ideas and new thoughts into conventional ways of doing things, and to invent and innovate.

4) Respectful Mind: This distinguishes humans from computers, and encourages people to learn to respect one another's differences.

5) Ethical Mind: Without ethical considerations, we cannot become responsible workers and citizens in the world we live in.

The Book's Main Idea
Gardner writes this book to encourage new levels of thinking for the future. In contrast to his previous work on MI Theory, which is more descriptive, this book attempts to be more prescriptive. Without developing these minds, people will be left unprepared for the future, and will be swamped by events, information and all kinds of unanticipated happenings. By cultivating these new mental habits, one can live more purposefully in the present, and more hopefully in the future. In other words, external changes of the future world requires internal adaptations of the inner world in us.

My Comments
When I first read it, Gardner's arguments are quite convincing. No doubt changes are constantly happening all around us. It is logical that external changes require us to have a changed mindset as well. His first three 'minds' are more cognitive and personal in the sense that it can be comfortably conducted alone. The other 2 minds are more relational, and goes beyond personal skills or brilliance. I was curious to find out why Gardner selects these 5 out of so many others. His answer is in saying that his five minds is more about 'policy' rather and 'psychology,' and that each mind is a combination of the various aspects of human intelligence (4). It is more an exhortation to cultivate such minds, rather than a clinical device to produce such thinking. 

I like Gardner's emphasis on the need to link development with human values. In other words, education cannot become an end in itself. It must lead to something more. Something bigger and better.
Education is inherently and inevitably an issue of human goals and human value.” (13)

My Critique
1) Limited: Not everything in the future can be covered by these 5 minds. What about the spiritual domain? What about faith? What about relationships that not only needs to be respected but to be loved?

2) Cross-Minds? While it is useful to see the individual minds as a separate entity, what about combinations among them? For that matter, what about discerning which mind to use under different contexts? For example, can we use a 'disciplined' mind to deal with an 'ethical' issue? How do we know which to use? Sometimes, there are more than one minds that are at work in any one situation.

3) Oversimplified: The last two minds tend to be oversimplified to the point that human dealings can have a scientific formula. For example, Gardner recommends that it is important to hire a respectful and ethical person in the organization. Often, at the interview process, we do not really know whether a person is ethical or not, until he/she gets exposed to a real-life situation. When that happens, it might be too late. (166)

4) Respectful as 'Tolerance': Gardner's first 3 minds are stronger as it is more easily measured, more objective. The other two is more difficult to deal with, as it becomes a lot more subjective. For example, as far as one needs to be 'tolerant,' we need to understand who is defining it? Different people has different degrees of tolerance.

5) Communicative Aspect of the minds needs to be included. Part of being human is communication. Gardner's book focuses too much on individual minds or intelligences, that I think it lacks the web of connections and communications to bring all of these intelligences together.

6) Order: Which mind should be cultivated first? This depends on the stage any one person is in. Thus, rather than applying the minds thoughtlessly, it is still an essential exercise to know oneself, prior to using any such models.

7) Culture: This is a huge gap the book did not really address. Culture alone can swallow up the best frameworks and render them ineffective. Thus the need to understand culture is key, and this book is too narrowly focused on a particular form of culture. This means the scope and application of the book remains extremely limited. Unless the whole world changes to become like the world Gardner lives in. Can that happen in Africa, hungry poor third world nations? I doubt it. People will not spend much time on their minds when their stomachs remain hungry.

This is a good book with a rather convincing theory upfront. It can be used to guide the educator toward designing a more holistic educational curriculum. It gives us a good framework for preparing for the future of information, to help us deal with the fast changing environment which is increasingly more data driven and information dependent. The first three minds are great skills to cultivate. The other two are also important, but need more specifics. Perhaps, Gardner needs another author to improve this five minds. What about the "Five Hearts for the Future?" That will be a perfect complement for the Five Minds. I like the book's simple idea and brave proposal. I will like it even better if it has been tested in the marketplace with positive results.


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