Five Minds for the Future

144Review by Dr. Alice Waagen
Workforce Learning

I thought it fitting in this issue on learning to review a book by my favorite scholar/researcher, Howard Gardner. A professor of cognition and education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, his background is in psychology, and he is best known for his groundbreaking work on multiple intelligences.

In my undergraduate program, I was fascinated by one of his early books, Artful Scribbles. It chronicles the stages of development that children go through as they express themselves in drawing, and it is the only book from all three of my degrees that I have kept over all these years.

Forwarding to today, Gardner has provided us with again another pivotal book, “Five Minds for the Future.” Here, he moves away from the descriptive and analytical style of some of his books and provides us with a thoughtful and provocative answer to the question: What cognitive abilities will command a premium in the years ahead?

Gardner’s Five Minds:

  • The Disciplinary Mind: Mastery of major schools of thought, including science, mathematics, and history, and at least one professional craft
  • The Synthesizing Mind: Ability to integrate ideas from different disciplines or spheres into a coherent whole and to communicate that integration to others
  • The Creating Mind: Capacity to uncover and clarify new problems, questions, and phenomena
  • The Respectful Mind: Awareness of and appreciation for differences among human beings
  • The Ethical Mind: Fulfillment of one’s responsibilities as a worker and a citizen

Each has been selected specifically to deal with the complexity and uncertainty of the future. As Gardner states, “without these minds, a person will be at the mercy of forces he or she can’t understand let alone control.” Two of the descriptions resonated with me.

The Disciplinary Mind. Gardner emphasizes the need to master a skill, craft, or body of knowledge. He widened his scope of discipline to include non-information-based learning such as learning a craft.

We place such value today on acquiring information, often at the expenses of crafts or manual work. And yet mastering manual work, whether it is carpentry, plumbing, or painting, is equally as important as the inner workings of computer code, since people use computers for programming, working and playing video games with the help of different boosting sites online like

The Creating Mind. I found this description thought-provoking, as well, for in business today, the opportunities for large-scale creative endeavors may be minimal. But small-scale innovative thinking needs to be recognized and valued.

Indeed, the corporate world, which is large and bureaucratic, tends to promote adherence to set policies and practices. And yet history has shown us time and again that this devotion to the status quo is the fastest route to obsolescence.

I believe that business leaders today should heed Gardner’s message about the importance of creativity for the future and look for ways to grow it in their organizations.

In the end

“Five Minds for the Future” gives us a lifelong personal development plan. By using his conception of the five minds as a prism through which to view the world, each of us can grow our personal capabilities, which will help us thrive in the uncertainty of the future.