by Jamie on July 15, 2009
“…We must immediately expand our vision beyond standard educational institutions. In our cultures of today – and of tomorrow – parents, peers, and media play roles at least as significant as do authorized teachers and formal schools…if any cliché of recent years ring true, it is the acknowledgment that learning must be lifelong.”
– Howard Gardner
Cultivating your mind is more important than anything else you can do to prepare for personal and professional success. Why? Because the modern world is unpredictable. The whirlwind of technology changes our lives so quickly that there’s no way to anticipate how the future will look. Your industry, your job, and even your day-to-day life may be very different 10, 20, or 30 years from now. The only way to get ready for what comes next is to create the mental infrastructure to thrive in any environment.
In past times, people could “finish” their education and move on to professional life. Today, learning is an essential part of just about any job. Imagine if a computer repairman, doctor, teacher, or librarian decided he was done learning just a decade ago. The results would be disastrous.
My article The 3 Types of Learning & Why You Won’t Want to Ignore Any of Them discusses the most important types of knowledge / ability to acquire. Professor Howard Gardner’s book Five Minds for the Future focuses on the most important ways to cultivate your mind for future success. Below you’ll find a summary of his five “minds” as well as my own thoughts on how independent learners can develop these traits.
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.
People need to know how to do at least one thing really well. The ability to focus and develop a deep knowledge will help anyone stand out from the generalists. Whether you’re an athlete, a professor, or a musician, learning how to embrace your subject on an expert level is the only way to excel.
Development Idea: Research shows that becoming an expert takes around ten years or 10,000 hours of focused work. If you know what you want excel at, set aside daily time to develop your abilities. If not, take a few moments to contemplate your passions.
The Synthesizing Mind
The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons.
They call this the information age for a reason. With internet access and a library card, a person can look up just about anything. The problem is that many people don’t know how to process the massive amount of information they encounter. Learning how to synthesize this knowledge (i.e. combine it in a way that makes sense) can help you find meaning and see the big picture in your profession and life in general.
Development Idea: Take note of new-to-you ideas, theories, and events whenever you’re reading or having a discussion. Then, watch to see where you hear about them a second time. I’m often surprised when I read about something for the first time and then see references to related topics three or four times during the following week. Combining this additional information helps me have a deeper understanding of the whole.
The Creating Mind
The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers.
Unfortunately, schools often have the effect of squelching creativity in favor of route learning and conformity. But, the creative mind is an extremely valuable asset both in one’s professional and personal life. If you have a creative mind, you can think of ways to change your own circumstance for the better and contribute cures, ideas, and products to global society. People who can create have the ability to change the world.
Development Idea: Watch just about any young child playing and you’ll see that creativity comes naturally. If you haven’t developed this trait as an adult, the best way to get started is by experimenting. Try new things, play around. Don’t be afraid to look silly or fail.
The Respectful Mind
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.
Now that technology has made worldwide travel and communication possible, the ability to understand and respect other people is essential.
Development Idea: The more people I know, the easier it is for me to value and respect ideas that are different from mine. Visiting other countries and communities and meeting new faces can help you become more welcoming of differences.
The Ethical Mind
The ethical mind ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desires of the society in which he lives. This mind conceptualizes how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all.
Thinking ethically is the unselfish trait. You benefit from living in a world where people do right by each other.
Development Idea: Take a look at the article Moral Reasoning for links to some compelling online ethics videos by a well-known professor Michael Sandel.
Gardner does a great job of identifying five “minds” that will help people in their future professions. But, I’m left feeling that there are additional ways of thinking that can help us excel in other areas of our lives. What “minds” or thinking abilities have you found beneficial?