Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Twenty-First Century Minds -

In Five Minds for the Future, Harvard psychology Howard Gardner - creator of the "eight intelligence" theory of the mind - describes the five types of mental processes which will prove to be the most crucial in performing well in the twenty-first century.

The first mind presented by Gardner is the disciplined mind, by which he refers to the idea of learning things as a discipline instead of merely as an unconnected series of facts and tasks. Part of the reason for this, to my mind, is that information and technology change so quickly in our age that learning a specific job isn't going to be as useful as learning a discipline. For example, learning the discipline of "information technology" would prove useful, whereas learning specifically how to encode for, say, an Oracle database may have more limited use in 10 years when technologies have radically changed. The keys to this sort of mind are being diligent and focusing on improvement and continuing education throughout your lifetime. If you ever feel like you can stop learning, stop growing, then your mind is not a disciplined man.

The second mind presented is the synthesizing mind, which is adept at drawing diverse information together in a cohesive manner. A synthesizing mind is selective and capable of drawing out the salient details of a topic, presenting them in any of a variety of forms: narrative, taxonomies, lists, rules, aphorisms, concepts, metaphors, images, themes, wordless embodiments (i.e. artistic metaphors, perhaps), theories, etc.

The creative mind extends the knowledge gained and puts a new spin on it, introduces some unique element to the mix that makes it different upon output than it was upon input. Gardner points out, however, that a creative mind that produces no output, that never puts these ideas into the "field" to "make judgements of quality and acceptability" is ultimately a wasted creative mind.

The next couple diverge, in that instead of talking about how a mind deals with information they relate to how minds interact with other minds. The respectful mind is about how to respond to differences among individuals and groups in a sympathetic and constructive manner. These differences will only grow in the future and ultimately we will all have to learn how best to deal with a wide range of diversity in all aspects of our life, even in aspects where the most progressive of us would prefer that things stay the same.

The final mind is the ethical mind, which goes a bit beyond being respectful and begins to deal with the individual's role as a good citizen in general. While the respectful mind focuses on individual interactions, the ethical mind focuses on interactions between an individual and the diverse roles that we assume in society - family roles, work roles, community roles, etc.

This one, of all of the minds presented, is the one that I'm least convinced of. Sure, it's great to be a good citizen and perform "good work" (one of Gardner's buzz phrases), but is this really inherent crucial in the same way the other sorts of minds are? Perhaps it is, though ... and perhaps I'll find out why when I read one of his other books, Good Work.

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