For years, I have been captivated by Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences – a theory focused on the many varied ways humans make sense of the world or express intelligence. As presented in Frames of Mind, his groundbreaking book, Gardner advocates for a recognition that there are many ways or abilities through which we engage the world. According to Gardner, while most of us achieve a degree of fluency in more than one intelligence, one is usually central in determining how we approach life. His eight intelligences are: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, intrapersonal, naturalistic, interpersonal, logical-mathematical, verbal-linguistic and kinesthetic.
Gardner challenges society’s emphasis on logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic as the most important of the intelligences and suggests we broaden not only our individual understanding of our ability or abilities, but also that we think differently about how we encourage the development of varied intelligences in education, work and society. Sadly, while the book was published in 1983, we have continued to narrow the focus on the logical and linguistic intelligences as we have decided to focus on the “basics” in many of our public schools, cutting the very programmes (athletics, music, dance, etc.) that support the development of a more rounded individual and society. I worry and wonder about the many talents lost in our society that either were not valued, nurtured or allowed the space and opportunity to flourish.
So, where do we look for inspiration? One resource that I have found useful is Tom Kelley‘s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. This book is based around the work of IDEO, one of the world’s most creative organizations renowned for its innovative approach to business development and problem solving. Tom expands on the various roles he believes must be engaged when an organization addresses a complex opportunity or challenge. I love this book, though I do wonder if the use of roles or titles takes us one step away from the fundamental “intelligences” and could, if misapplied, focus too much energy on engaging people with different labels or job titles/functions rather than creative approach.
Where I have seen a truly remarkable cross section of intelligences is on the set of a film. On a film set, one is surrounded by talented story tellers, lighting artists, actors, cinematographers, directors, producers, accountants, etc. who bring their varied skills and talents to a unique project that no one group of them could possibly achieve without all the others. Together, these various ” intelligences” collaborate to create a product that transcends disciplines and economics. Ideally, the outcome is a human creative project that moves, educates, informs or entertains us while also creating significant revenue and employment.
Going forward, I do hope we might find a more broad and inclusive way of recognizing intelligence and ability in ourselves and others. The challenges that lie ahead require us all to be our best selves and that means tapping into these often dormant abilities and building a world that helps each individual find their own skills and gifts. Individually, we must create lives in which we can fully and passionately express our gifts while living a life that matters. Until we unleash our full creative potential, we will be under delivering on the promise of humanity.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (Probably or possibly Einstein)