Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future offers a framework for succeeding in a world of accelerating change and information overload, ways of thinking that are essential to thrive as citizens of the twenty first century. Gardner’s groundbreaking theory of Multiple Intelligences identified distinct cognitive capabilities that make each of us unique. The 5 Minds he distinguishes are broad uses of the mind which utilize our several intelligences.
The 5 Minds Gardner delineates are directly applicable to the process of innovation in organizations, they are generative rather than descriptive. And, importantly, unlike the individual profile created by our inherent intelligences, the five minds can be cultivated. Because innovation is a team effort, the five minds are especially relevant because they explicitly include the human elements required to create the future.
The first three minds, Disciplined, Synthesizing, and Creative, relate to the cognitive spectrum and are sequential, building upon each other. The last two minds, Respectful and Ethical, relate to the human sphere and are foundational to the process of innovation and the way we approach our work and our interactions with others.
The Disciplined Mind is about mastering a way of thinking, working steadily over time to improve skill and understanding. In the innovation process, this is the way we think about our marketplace and our customers, the way we observe and gather information, develop theories and revise them when we make new discoveries. It’s about gaining expertise, not in the subject matter, but in the way we think about our innovation challenges and opportunities.
The Synthesizing Mind is about putting information together in ways that make sense to you, which are coherent and can be effectively communicated to others. In the innovation process, it’s about creating a framework for the vast amount of disparate data that we have, deliberately choosing what to listen to and why, as well as what to ignore and why. It’s about how we summarize the relevant information and convey our perceptions of the opportunities.
The Creative Mind is about coming up with new things which get accepted, delivering creative results. As Gardner notes, personality and temperament are at least as important to creativity as cognitive powers. Creativity requires taking chances, taking risks, not being afraid to fall down, and learning from our experiences. In the innovation process, creating something new requires a deep understanding of what already exists, a framework to make sense of how it all fits together, and a willingness to take risks. Only then can we create new products and services that meet the functional and emotional needs of our consumers and deliver innovation to the marketplace.
The Respectful Mind is about recognizing that the world is composed of people who look different, think differently and have different belief and value systems. It’s about trying to understand them better. In the innovation process, our cross-functional teams are a microcosm of this diversity with vastly different intelligences and modes of operation. Respecting, and learning to truly appreciate, each unique perspective and contribution creates an atmosphere of teamwork and common cause that can transform a group of people into a unified, brilliant team.
The Ethical Mind encourages us to consider our responsibilities as workers, rather than our rights, and to act on them. Gardner notes that Good Work embodies the three E’s: excellence (technical,) engagement (meaningfully involved in work we find motivating,) and ethical (behaving responsibly as a worker.) In the innovation process, teams that bring their technical excellence to their work, fully engage with one another consistently, and behave responsibly toward their projects and their peers will deliver significantly more impactful results.
The 5 Minds offer a roadmap for developing innovation competencies in our leaders and teams. In addition to how we think about our challenges, they represent the innovation mindsets and innovation values that can be cultivated to deliver creative results.