Friday, March 02, 2007

Interview with Professor Gardner on the Ethical Mind

The Harvard Business Review of March 2007 contains an interview worth reading with Harvard Graduate School Professor of Cognition and Education Howard Gardner.
Gardner became well known by his 1983 book Frames of Mind, in which he argued that people don't have one, but multiple intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence.

Likewise, Gardner now proposes to distinguish between Five Types of Cognitive Minds:
  1. The Disciplined Mind - What we gain through applying ourselves in a disciplined way in school.
  2. The Synthesizing Mind - Surveys a wide range of sources, decides what is important and is worth paying attention to.
  3. The Creating Mind - Looks for new ideas and practices, innovates, takes chances, dicovers.
  4. The Respectful Mind - The kind of open mind that tries to understand and form relationshipss with other human beings.
  5. The Ethical Mind - Broadens the respect for others (see 4) into something more abstract. Asks: "What kind of a person, worker, and citizen do I want to be?"

The Ethical Mind grows at home and in the surrounding community. Bad behavior of others can undermine it. Gardner mentions cheating MBA students as an example of this undermining, and thinks that it is more difficult for businesspeople to adhere to an ethical mind than it is for other professionals, because business is strictly not a profession, has no guild-structure, no professional model, no standards and no penalties for bad behavior. The only requirement is to make money and not run afoul of the law.

In order to stay on the right track, Gardner advises business leaders to:

  1. Believe doing so is essential for the good of the organization, especially during difficult times.
  2. Take the time to step back and reflect about the nature of their work.
  3. Undergo "positive periodic inoculations", being forced to rethink what you're doing.
  4. Use consultants, which should include a trusted advisor within the organization, the councel of someone completely outside the organization (an old friend), a genuine independent board.

See also the related website The Good Work Project, an "effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work—work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningfulto its practitioners—and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society".