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 / Summer 2007 / Issue 47(originally published by Booz & Company)


Howard Gardner Does Good Work

His next major book, Leading Minds (Basic Books, 1995), represented a departure for Gardner. The book barely references the idea of multiple intelligences. Instead, it portrays well-known leaders as creative changers of minds, using 11 figures — including Margaret Mead, Margaret Thatcher, Alfred Sloan, and Mahatma Gandhi again — to substantiate the point. For example, Sloan influenced the senior managers at General Motors by deliberately demonstrating the qualities he wanted them to have. “His participation in groups,” wrote Gardner, “modeled the kinds of considerations that he deemed important and the model of converging on a decision that he favored.”

In some ways, GM in the Sloan years (1923–56) modeled the kind of professionalism that Gardner went on to call “good work.” He quoted Alfred Sloan in Leading Minds: “We have done a very creditable job for the shareholders, without neglecting our responsibilities to our employees, customers, dealers, suppliers, and the community.” Gardner then added that Sloan was one businessperson whose record could justify such claims, and concluded: “As Americans, [Sloan] was saying, we belong to a society that believes in and fosters business — business where…prosperity for the company can go hand-in-hand with prosperity for the nation as a whole.”

In 2001, Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi, and Damon published their first findings from the GoodWork Project, Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet. Then in 2006, as if in reaction to the lack of response to that work, Gardner published Changing Minds, his study of the ways that people can effectively influence others. Once again using biographies, this time including those of Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, Gardner posited that any deep and permanent adjustment in other people’s thinking could be achieved only by orchestration of several factors in concert. They include reason, research, rewards, “re-descriptions” (which interpret the facts differently), and the orchestration of real-world events. In effect, he laid out multiple simultaneous pathways for the effective influencer: If you don’t consciously act on several dimensions at once, combining persuasion, the example of your own behavior, and organizational incentives, you will not be able to sway the course of other individuals, let alone larger institutions. And as one small part of Changing Minds made clear, he was thinking about his own organization, Harvard University, in particular.

Ethical Winter
In 2006, Howard Gardner’s love of Harvard and his concepts of effective leadership were both put to the test by the troubled university presidency of Lawrence H. Summers. Though he was one of the few Harvard faculty members who knew Summers personally before his appointment, Gardner also became the first to say publicly that the appointment had been a mistake. He says he found himself in conflict between his own respectful mind, which said that one owes loyalty to a president, and his ethical mind, which said that one has a responsibility to the institution.

“I had known Larry Summers better than probably 95 percent of the faculty,” Gardner says. When Summers became embroiled in public controversies — including his clash with Cornel West, the prominent African-American studies professor, and his famous 2005 speech questioning whether women had the innate ability to compete in science — Gardner says he “became convinced [Summers’s appointment] was a mistake and that he shouldn’t be president. But I probably wouldn’t have said anything if I hadn’t read Robert Rubin saying he hadn’t heard any faculty speaking against him,” referring to the Harvard board member and former secretary of the U.S. treasury. “For two months I didn’t sleep. So I became publicly critical and privately I asked him to resign. I did this with no glee at all.”

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  1. Howard Gardner with Emma Laskin, Leading Minds: Anatomy of Leadership (Basic Books, 1995): Leaders as embodiments of a moral story.
  2. Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon, Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet (Basic Books, 2001): How and why work can be intrinsically valuable.
  3. Howard Gardner, Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds (Harvard Business School Press, 2006): Biography-based analysis of political leaders who know how to wield attitude-shifting influence.
  4. Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons (Perseus, 2006): The most up-to-date of the several books on Gardner’s theory of seven (or eight) innate cognitive capabilities.
  5. Howard Gardner, Five Minds for the Future (Harvard Business School Press, 2007): Gardner’s core curriculum for leaders of the future, with his most recent explication of the discipline of ethics.
  6. Jeffrey A. Schaler, editor, Howard Gardner Under Fire: The Rebel Psychologist Faces His Critics (Open Court, 2006): Although focused largely on multiple intelligences, this book contains several critiques of Good Work and Gardner’s focused response.
  7. Howard Gardner’s Web site: Best starting point for papers and links. Click here.
  8. Howard Gardner’s page on the Project Zero Web site: Contains some more detailed links to interviews, speeches, research projects, and material about Project Zero. Click here.
  9. Google Code of Conduct: Does this kind of standard add to a company’s cognitive capabilities? Click here.
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