5 Minds for the Future

Wouldn’t you love to know what you need to do to succeed, to thrive in the future? Like many who are looking for sound guidance in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world, I often peruse the business section of my local bookstore in search of such wise counsel. During one of my perusals, I was drawn to Howard Gardner’s 5 Minds for the Future because I know that Gardner is well thought of in both business and academic circles. Gardner, the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the scholar who brought us the theory of multiple intelligences and The Good Project approach to work, life, citizenship, play, etc. In fact, according to the back cover of 5 Minds of the Future, Gardner is so respected that he has been cited by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the one hundred most influential public intellectuals in the world!

In 5 Minds, Gardner lists the kinds of minds that he feels we all should adopt to survive and thrive in the future. The five minds are as follows:

  1. The Disciplined Mind – We will need people who have mastered a way of thinking that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, craft, or profession.
  2. The Synthesizing Mind – We will need people who are skilled at gathering information from disparate sources and putting them together in ways that make sense to others.
  3. The Creating Mind – We will need people who are adept at breaking new ground, people who put forth new ideas, pose new questions, and promote fresh ways of thinking that produce unexpected results.
  4. The Respectful Mind – Because the world is becoming increasingly diverse, we will need people who respect and value those who are different from themselves.
  5. The Ethical Mind – We will need people who can think beyond their own self-interest and choose to act in ways that improve the quality of life and living.

Gardner asserts these five minds because he feels that our current education system unwisely promotes memorization of discrete facts rather than learning a discipline’s approach to solving problems; that contemporary society does not sufficiently understand the value of combining disparate sources; that our organizations set up systems and processes that impede creativity; that our organizations pay lip service to valuing diversity, but do not truly value what it contributes; and that our society pursues profit at the expense of the quality of life and living.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Do good work

"A good worker has a set of principles and values that she can state explicitly, or at least acknowledge upon questioning."
- 5 Minds for the Future, page 136

“Good work” is work that makes use of all five of the above minds and it is the kind of work we should all strive to do. It’s an ideal that may be hard to realize, but even trying is bound to have a cumulatively positive impact on the world.

When trying to ensure that you’re doing good work, Gardner suggests that you invoke what he calls the 4 signposts. The signposts are as follows:

  1. Mission – What are you trying to achieve through your actions? Can you articulate the goal?
  2. Models – Do you have exposure to others who are doing good work in your field or a related field?
  3. Mirror test – Individual version. Look in the mirror and evaluate whether you are proceeding in ways of which you approve.
  4. Mirror test – Professional responsibility. Are you and your colleagues behaving in ways that uphold your profession? If, and when, you or your colleagues stray away from good work, are you held accountable for your actions?

Gardner doesn’t give many other tips on how to actually use or stay true to the five minds in your professional, daily life. To that end, insight #1 and insight #2 below are actions that will help you stay true to at least two of the five minds.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Use your discipline

"Most individuals in most schools or training programs are studying subject matter. That is, like many of their teachers, they conceive their task as committing to memory a large number of facts, formulas, and figures… Disciplines represent a radically different phenomenon. A discipline constitutes a distinctive way of thinking about the world."
- 5 Minds for the Future, page 27

Think back to what you studied in school. In addition to learning and memorizing a lot of facts, what methodology did you learn to use? For example, if you studied history, you used primary sources and other evidence to piece together what happened in the past. The challenge that Gardner would present to you is to find ways to use this approach to help you in your current vocation.

My graduate studies were in linguistics, the scientific study of language. Though I am no longer working in the field of linguistics, I can apply the method of research that I learned in school to work in my current profession, leadership development. For example, rather than blindly accepting the ideas and practices articulated in best-selling books on leadership, I can test them by gathering data (quantitative and qualitative) and analyzing the data to see if the ideas and practices are working. If they aren’t working, then I can hypothesize what might work and then test my own hypothesis as well.

How might you apply your discipline in your life?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Look in the mirror

"I prefer the concept of respect. Rather than ignoring differences, being inflamed by them, or seeking to annihilate them through love or hate, I call on human beings to accept the differences, learn to live with them, and value those who belong to other cohorts."
- 5 Minds for the Future, page 107

I believe most people would agree that practicing respect, using the Respectful Mind, is something they support and strive for in principle. However, I also believe that really practicing it consistently is a bigger challenge than we are generally aware of. I believe it requires self-awareness and recognition of differences. And, I also believe it requires the willingness to stop occasionally and check in with yourself, to ask yourself how you are showing that you value and respect an individual or group.

As I interact with others I often recognize ways in which they differ from me. I understand, for example, that some people dislike implicit communication and prefer a more direct, explicit approach. I think it’s good that I recognize this difference. However, can I say that I respect and value the difference? For example, when I interact with someone from a culture whose communication style is generally described as explicit (say, someone from Germany) do I value this difference? If so, I might ask myself how I am showing this. As another example, when my manager expresses a more detail-oriented approach to work than me, have I thought about how I might actually respect and value this different approach? Again, if so, I can ask myself how I am expressing this.

Here is a short list of categories to which I plan to apply the Mirror signpost. Which ones are you willing to take on?

  • Generational differences – Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y, etc.
  • Myers Brigg Type Indicator types – ENFPs, ISTJs, ENTJs, ISNFs, etc.
  • Cultural differences – Chinese, American, Indian, German, French, etc.

What other kinds of differences can you apply the Mirror signpost to?

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Art Bingham

ABOUT Art Bingham

WHO ARE YOU? I am a learning and development professional with over 20 years experience in leadership, team, and organizational development; corporate training; and corporate coaching...
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