Five Minds for the Future: A book review by Bob Morris

Five Minds for the Future
Howard Gardner
Harvard Business School Press (2009)

On nurturing “potentials that are distinctly human”

I have read and reviewed all of Howard Gardner’s previous books and consider this, his latest, to be the most valuable thus far. In it, he identifies and explains five separate but related combinations of cognitive abilities that are needed to “thrive in the world during eras to come…[cognitive abilities] which we should develop in the future.” Gardner refers to them as “minds” but they are really mindsets. Mastery of each enables a person:

1. to know how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding;

2. to take information from disparate sources and make sense of it by understanding and evaluating that information objectively;

3. by building on discipline and synthesis, to break new ground;

4. by “recognizing that nowadays one can no longer remain within one’s shell or one’s home territory,” to note and welcome differences between human individuals and between human groups so as to understand them and work effectively with them;

5. and finally, “proceeding on a level more abstract than the respectful mind,” to reflect on the nature of one’s work and the needs and desires of the society in which one lives.

Gardner notes that the five “minds” he examines in this book are different from the eight or nine human intelligences that he examines in his earlier works. “Rather than being distinct computational capabilities, they are better thought of as broad uses of the mind that we can cultivate at school, in professions, or at the workplace.”

The “future” to which the title of this book refers is the future that awaits each of us. That is, Gardner is not a futurist in the sense that others such as Ossip K. Flechteim, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Dennis Gabor, Alvin Toffler, and Peter Schwartz are. If I understand Gardner’s ultimate objective (and I may not), his hope is to help as many people as possible — regardless of their age, gender, and circumstances — to cultivate their minds by taking full advantage of any and every opportunity available to them; moreover, to do all they can to enrich and then sustain the same process of cultivation initiated by others.

He concludes his book as follows: “Perhaps members of the human species will not be prescient enough to survive, or perhaps it will take far more immediate threats to our survival before we can make common with our fellow human beings. In any event the survival and thriving of our species will depend on our nurturing of potentials that are distinctly human.” Some may view these comments as being naïve but I do not. On the contrary, I view them as an eloquent assertion of what is imperative, yes, but also as a sincere affirmation of what is possible.

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