Issue 22: In This Issue

  • Five Minds for the Future
  • Powerful Conversations

Five Minds for the Future

By Howard Gardner 

Five Minds for the Future is an important book for any leader looking to achieve maximum performance out of their employees, themselves and their organization .

Howard Gardner will be familiar to many as the originator of the theory of multiple intelligences and a book of the same name.

In this theory, which achieved recognition worldwide, all human beings possess a number of relatively autonomous cognitive capabilities - each of which Gardner designated as a separate intelligence.

Different from Multiple Intelligences

However, the five minds Gardner posits in this book are different from the eight or nine human intelligences. Rather than being distinct computational capabilities, they are better thought of as broad uses of the mind that we can cultivate at school, in professions or at the workplace.

With these five minds, Gardner posits that a person will be well equipped to deal with what is expected, as well as what cannot be anticipated. Without these minds, a person will be at the mercy of forces that he or she cannot understand, let alone control.

1. The Disciplined Mind

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 ten years to master a discipline. The disciplined mind also knows how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding – in the vernacular, it is highly disciplined. Without at least one discipline under his belt, the individual is destined to march to someone else’s tune.

Disciplined Thinking Not Factual Accumulation

In his discussion on the disciplined mind, Gardner points out a problem with our conventional educational system. Although students may have accumulated plenty of factual or subject matter knowledge, many have not learned to think in a ‘disciplined’ manner.

As support for this position, he recites numerous examples where students in a particular subject matter will give completely erroneous answers to a question in that subject even though they have studied the factual information that would lead them to the correct answer if they were able to think in a disciplined way.

Vital for New Situations

To be sure, he recognizes the need for the accumulation of subject matter knowledge and the evolutionary forces that gave rise to a process in which accumulation and recitation of this knowledge is a primary focus in an educational system.

However, if students are not able to utilize disciplinary thinking, they end up being ‘lost at sea’ when they are exposed to items or situations which they have not previously met. Nearly every leader is familiar with the new graduate that seems completely unable to apply his or her learning in the real world.

Gardner recognizes that without facts and subject matter knowledge, there is little that the disciplined mind can do. The point he is making is that an encyclopedia of facts is of little value without the disciplined thinking that will enable one to function effectively in the today's world.

2. The Synthesizing Mind

The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that makes 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 – to the state where it is now beyond the capacity of a single individual to acquire, store and manage all of the relevant information even within one field of study. The critical skill now is being able to knit together information from disparate sources into a coherent whole.
That synthesis is a vital capability is not news for nearly any business leader today – especially those charged with formulating a vision for the future. However, Gardner’s chapter on the topic is particularly valuable for the overview on the kinds of synthesis humans rely upon, the four primary components of any effort to synthesize and his overall discussion on the reward/risks, challenges and illuminating examples.

3. The Creating Mind

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.

4. The Respectful Mind

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 and disrespect is no longer a viable option. Any leader who has dealt with the challenges of working in a foreign culture can attest to the problems that arise without respect and understanding of that culture.

5. The Ethical Mind

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.

The Importance of the Five Minds

Gardner makes his case for the importance of these minds as follows:

  • Individuals without one or more disciplines will not be able to succeed at any demanding workplace and will be restricted to menial tasks.
  • Individuals without synthesizing capabilities will be overwhelmed by information and unable to make judicious decisions about personal or professional matters.
  • Individuals without creating capacities will be replaced by computers and will drive away those who do have the creative spark.
  • Individuals without respect will not be worthy of respect by others and will poison the workplace and the commons
  • Individuals without ethics will yield a world devoid of decent workers and responsible citizens: none of us will want to live on that desolate planet.

Gardner devotes a chapter to each one of the five minds and then concludes with a chapter that looks at how we can move forward toward the cultivation of these five minds and the obstacles that will be met on the way.

Not a 'How-to' Recipe Book

Five Minds for the Future is not a how-to-book. Gardner’s objective is first of all to give you an understanding of these five minds and then, in this process, convince you of the need to cultivate them, outline the challenges in doing so and illustrate some paths forward. He does provide some top level guidance but the detail steps are left up to you.

An Informing & Important Read

For all of those leaders who have ever thought “Why do so many of my people seem unable to ‘think’?” or “Why can’t I get my people to see the big picture and then take the right steps to deal with it?”, this book will provide some of the answers.

At the end of Five Minds for the Future, it is easy to come to the conclusion that:

  • widespread deployment of Gardner’s Five Minds throughout the leadership and management of an organization (if not the entire organization) will become an increasingly important competitive advantage; but
  • their development in the average employee is going to take some work.

Gardner's model provides a solid basis for moving forward and developing the capability and the competitive advantage. Highly recommended.

To purchase 'Five Minds for the Future' click this link to get it from: 

Powerful Conversations

by Philip J. Harkins 

In his book, Phillip Harkins says that he has never known a high-impact leader who was not skilled at Powerful Conversations - whether conscious of that designation or not.

A Powerful Conversation, by his definition, is an interaction between two or more people that progresses from shared feelings, beliefs, and ideas to an exchange of wants and needs to clear action steps and mutual commitments.

Specifically, a Powerful Conversation produces three outputs:

  • an advanced agenda,
  • shared learning, and
  • a strengthened relationship
Building Trust

He also makes the point that some people, although skilled at the art of Powerful Conversations, nevertheless fail as leaders because they fail to live up to their words. Why is this important? It has to do with trust-without which conversations cannot progress toward the realization of commitments.

Ordinary conversation often suffers the pitfalls of misunderstood fact and misinterpreted emotion. And most communication about difficult issues is characterized by circuitous argument, uncertain outcomes, lack of clarity, conflicts in personality, and misaligned goals.

Three Stages of a Powerful Conversation

Harkins describes his model of a Powerful Conversation as typically proceeding through the following three stages.

  • "Stage One. In the beginning of a Powerful Conversation, the initiator of the conversation sets up his or her agenda with an honest feeling or a sincere expression of need. For our purposes, I use the term agenda to describe a desired outcome-that is, a goal or a set of goals that require the cooperation, support, and commitment of one or more persons. The statement of an honest feeling or a sincere need signals to the other participant(s) in the conversation the importance of the agenda. It also constitutes a request for help and contribution.
  • "Stage Two. In the middle of a Powerful Conversation, there is a discussion of the issues enmeshed in the agenda. A high-impact leader skillfully probes for the wants and needs of the other participants. In this way, he or she uncovers the goals of the other person(s) that must be met in the process of achieving the leader's own agenda. This is the stage where the high-impact leader surfaces any hidden agendas and connects facts with underlying assumptions in order to advance his or her agenda.
  • "Stage Three. In the closing stage of a Powerful Conversation, the high-impact leader makes sure the participants have nailed down the next steps and are open about what they will do to make those commitments come to life. The closing of a Powerful Conversation is also the time when a high-impact leader asks openly whether the other person really got what he or she wanted in that conversation. This is a good way to ensure that a Powerful Conversation will lead to results."

Of course, an implicit element of an effective conversation is the listening component and many books on leadership point out its importance to leadership.

It is by demonstrating sincere interest in another person's real thoughts and feelings that a leader is able to tap into hidden dialogue, surface the undiscussables, and uncover wants and needs. By being a skilled listener, a leader can sort out the content of this hidden dialogue into important facts and assumptions.

4 Principles to be a Great Listener

Harkins lists four important principles involved in becoming a great listener:

  • Focusing in a visible way
  • Sorting and compartmentalizing needs and wants
  • Recognizing the feeling as well as the content
  • Balancing inquiry, advocacy, and judgment

Sometimes, despite our best efforts and most careful and rational interactions, conversations go nowhere. Instead of simply a lack of information transfer, quite often the outputs of a bad conversation are the much more serious impacts such as bad feelings, bad judgments or bad decisions.

Characteristics of Bad Conversations

Harkins provides a list of characteristics of bad conversations you can watch for to help you catch them early:

  • Unclear, poorly expressed, or poorly understood content
  • Unfocused content marked by tangents, or the cramming in of too many facts, concerns, wants, and needs
  • Frequent interruptions leading to poor exchange of signals and information as well as rising frustration
  • Uninterested participation and lack of active listening
  • Unexpressed feelings or beliefs, guarded emotions, and unspoken needs and wants
  • Indirect language, with facts and assumptions ineffectively communicated
  • Harsh voice and tone, often unintentionally at odds with message
  • Nonverbal signs at odds with words, revealing true negative feelings
  • Unresponsive body language, such as poor eye contact, turning away, and crossed arms

To purchase 'Powerful Conversations' click this link to get it from: