This post was first published on Pete Laburn’s blog in Feb 2011

In his book, ‘5 Minds for the Future’ (buy it now at and Howard Gardner concerns himself with the kinds of minds that people will need if we are to thrive in the world during the eras to come. Also, in the inter-connected world in which the majority of human beings now live we need to identify the kinds of minds that should be developed in the future for the greater good of our society as a whole.

The 5 Minds for the Future identified by Gardner refer to 5 characteristics of the mind that Gardner suggests each person should aim to develop. While each person will not be able to develop them all in equal measure, we should aim to develop aspects of them all for the balance of mind needed for the future…

Each mind has been important historically, but will become even more crucial in the future. With these minds, a person will be well equipped to deal with what is expected, as well as what cannot be anticipated, in the future. While without these minds, a person will be at the mercy of forces that he or she can’t understand, let alone control.

The 5 minds for the future as set out by Gardner are:

  1. The Disciplined Mind;
  2. The Synthesising Mind;
  3. The Creating Mind;
  4. The Respectful Mind; and
  5. The Ethical Mind.

Gardner feels that these 5 minds are particularly at a premium in the world of today and will be even more so in the future. They span both the cognitive spectrum and human enterprise and are therefore comprehensive, global and can be cultivated. Education is the key to developing these 5 minds for the future, and while traditional forms of education will bear the burden of training young minds, parents, peers and the media also play an as important role in influencing and developing minds of tomorrow. Moreover, it is important to note that in a world that shows no signs of slowing down, no individual or organisation can afford to rest on his or her intellectual laurels. The future belongs to those that have made an active lifelong commitment to continue to learn. Gardner believes that in the workplace we should be seeking people who possess disciplined, synthesising, creating, respectful and ethical minds, but should all continue to perennially develop all five minds ourselves.

For the most part, traditional forms of education have remained quite conservative. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, Gardner believes that it is time for undertaking new educational practices. He believes that the current practices are not working and that we are not educating young people who are literate, immersed in the arts, capable of scientific theorising, tolerant of immigrants or skilled in conflict resolution. Secondly, he feels that conditions in the world have changed and are continuing to change so significantly that certain goals, capacities and practises might no longer be beneficial, but in fact counterproductive. We live at a time of vast changes. Most of these changes entail the power of science and technology and globalization. These changes call for new educational forms and processes.

Education is inherently and inevitably an issue of human goals and human values. One cannot begin to develop an educational system unless one has in mind the knowledge and skills that one values and a vision of the kind of individuals one hopes will emerge at the end of the day. Educators need to decide what traits they want to develop in youngsters before developing an education system.

Recent years have seen the dominance of science and technology in importance in education to the detriment of the social sciences, the humanities, the arts, civics, civility, ethics, health, safety and fitness. Science on its own can never constitute a sufficient education, no matter how valuable the skills are to industry, and science is not the only important area of knowledge that young people should be taught.

Globalization features four unprecedented trends:

  1. The movement of capital and other market instruments around the globe, with huge amounts circulating virtually instantaneously each day;
  2. The movement of human beings across borders, with well more than 100-million immigrants scattered around the world at any time;
  3. The movement of all matter of information through cyberspace, with megabytes of information of various degrees of reliability available to anyone with access to a computer;
  4. The movement of popular culture – such as stylish clothing, foods and melodies – readily across borders so that teenagers the world over look increasingly similar, even as the tastes, beliefs and values of their elders may also converge.

Gardner believes that current formal education still prepares students primarily for the world of the past, rather than for possible worlds of the future. To be specific, educators assume that educational goals and values are self-evident without stating their precepts explicitly. We acknowledge the importance of science and technology, but do not teach scientific ways of thinking, let alone how to develop individuals with synthesising and creative capacities essential for continual scientific and technological progress. In addition, we think of science as the prototype for all knowledge, rather than one powerful way of knowing that needs to be complemented by artistic and humanistic and spiritual stances. We acknowledge the factors of globalisation but have not figured out how to prepare youngsters so that they can survive and thrive in a world different from anything we could imagine.

Turning to the workplace, we have become far more aware of the necessity of continuing education. Nonetheless, much of corporate education is narrowly focused on skills with innovation outsourced and ethics discussed in occasional workshops. Few corporate settings embrace a liberal arts perspective. We do not think deeply about the human qualities that we want to cultivate at the workplace.

The 5 minds for the future are the main characteristics that we will need to cultivate if we are to have the kinds of managers, leaders and citizens needed to populate our planet.

  • Individuals without one or more disciplines will not be able to succeed at any demanding workplace and will be restricted to menial tasks.
  • Individuals without synthesising capabilities will be overwhelmed by information and unable to make judicious decisions about personal or professional matters.
  • Individuals without creating capacities will be replaced by computers and will drive away those who do have the creative spark.
  • Individuals without respect will not be worthy of respect by others and will poison the workplace and the commons.
  • Individuals without ethics will yield a world devoid of decent workers and responsible citizens: none of us will want to live on that desolate planet.

The Disciplined Mind

The Disciplined mind refers to the ability to think in ways associated with major scholarly disciplines such as history, math and science, and major professions like law, medicine, management, finance as well as the ability to apply oneself diligently, improving steadily and continuing beyond formal education.

Recent scientific research into student’s intellectual understanding, including those who attend the best schools, has revealed that despite accumulating plenty of factual or subject matter knowledge, most students have not learned to think in a disciplined manner. If most of the worlds education system is concerned with the acquisition of the appropriate disciplinary knowledge, habits of mind and patterns of behaviour and the eradication of erroneous unproductive ways of thinking, why then do many students continue to adhere to inadequate ways of thinking. Gardner believes that it is because teachers and students do not appreciate the differences between subject matter and discipline. Most students are studying subject matter, trying to commit to memory a large number of facts, formulas and figures. They are then tested on this information, and are thought to be good students and will succeed in their course if they are able to contain all this information.

Disciplines represent a radically different phenomenon. A discipline constitutes a distinctive way of thinking about the world. Distinctive ways of thinking characterise the professions and are modelled by skilled practitioners. Study should help students to acquire the habit of these discipline specific ways of thinking. Students need to understand information not as an end in itself or a stepping stone to more advanced information, but rather as a means to better-informed practice.

The absence of disciplinary thinking matters. Without these sophisticated ways of thinking, individuals remain unschooled, no different from uneducated individuals in how they think of the physical world, the biological world, the human world, the imaginative world and the commercial world. They have not benefited from the genuine progress achieved by learned individuals in the past few thousand years. There are fewer and fewer occupations in which one can progress without at least some sophistication in scientific, mathematical, professional, commercial and humanistic thinking. While scholarly disciplines allow you to participate knowledgeably in the world, professional disciplines allow you to thrive at the workplace.

While facts and figures and other information are important, in today’s world of search engines and virtual encyclopaedias, nearly all desired information can be retrieved almost instantaneously, but it is the mastering of the disciplined mind that sets someone apart from others.

Gardner believes that it is essential for individuals in the future to be able to think in ways that characterise the major disciplines. At high school level all students should be introduced and master the ways of thinking in science, mathematics, history and at least one art form. These few main disciplines are gateways to other sciences, the social sciences and other forms of art. Without acquiring these thinking patterns students will be completely dependent on others to formulate views about the world. These forms of thinking will serve students well no matter what profession they eventually enter. Knowledge of facts is a useful ornament but a fundamentally different undertaking than thinking in a discipline.

At university and graduate level or in the workplace, the target profession will determine the relevant discipline that should be pursued and the structure and processes of these disciplines should be mastered ahead of facts and figures.

Here are 4 steps essential to developing a disciplined mind:

  1. Identify the important topics or concepts within the discipline. Some of these will be content and others will be methodological.
  2. Spend a significant amount of time on each topic. If it is worth studying, it is worth studying deeply over a long period of time, using a variety of examples and modes of analysis.
  3. Approach the topic in a number of ways taking advantage of the variety of ways that people can learn. Any lesson is more likely to be understood if it has been approached through diverse entry points, these can include stories, logical expositions, debate, dialogue, humour, role play, graphic depictions, video or cinematic presentations. A good student should draw on several intelligences in inculcating key concepts or processes.
  4. Set up performances of understanding and give students ample opportunities to perform their understandings under a variety of conditions.  While understanding is something that occurs in the mind or brain, you cannot ascertain whether the understanding is robust or genuine unless the student is able to mobilize their understanding publically by answering a new question or problem that they have not been exposed to before.

In the end, the achievement of a disciplined mind breeds a desire for more, thereby fuelling the desire for ongoing, life-long learning. Perhaps at one time in the past an individual could acquire his professional license and then coast on his laurels for the next 30-50 years. But today there is no career to which this characterisation still applies. Indeed, the more important the profession is considered to be, the more essential to continue ones education.

Equally important in the development of the disciplined mind is the other kind of discipline – referring to the extent to which the individual has acquired the habits that allow them to make steady and unending progress in the mastery of a skill, craft or body of knowledge. The earliest writers about education stressed the importance of daily drill, study, practice and mastery. In the future a disciplined individual needs to continue to learn, not because she has been programmed to do so, but rather because she realises that given the accumulation of new data, knowledge and methods, she must become a lifelong student, and because she has become passionate about and to enjoy the process of learning about the world. While the process of developing a disciplined mind is arduous, it can be fashioned and its achievement represents an indispensable milestone for the future.

The synthesising mind

The synthesising mind is able to select crucial information from the copious amounts available, arraying that information in ways that make sense to self and others.

The ability to knit together information from different sources into a coherent whole is vital today. The amount of accumulated knowledge is reportedly doubling every 2-3 years. Sources of information are vast and disparate and individuals crave coherence and integration. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann has asserted that the mind most at a premium in the twenty-first century will be the mind that can synthesise well.

Yet the forces that stand in the way of synthesis are formidable. Developing a disciplined mind that can think systematically within one scholarly discipline or profession is difficult, never mind trying to master a number of perspectives and then piece them together in a useful way. In addition, individual cognition is remarkably domain-specific and is predisposed to learn skills in certain contexts. Few individuals have expertise in inculcating the skill of synthesis.

Some common examples of synthesis could take the form of narratives, taxonomies, complex concepts, rules and aphorisms, powerful metaphors, embodiments without words, theories and metatheory. In general, any synthesis entails four loosely ordered components:

  1. A goal – a statement or conception of what the synthesiser is trying to achieve.
  2. A starting point – an idea, image or any previous work on which to build.
  3. Selection of strategy, method and approach – here the synthesiser’s disciplinary training comes into play. The Synthesiser must choose the format of his ultimate synthesis, and drawing on his discipline, must proceed toward the goal.
  4. Drafts and feedback – eventually the synthesiser must develop an initial synthesis and receive feedback on it.

The mind of the young person is characterised by two powerful but contradictory features. On the one hand, preschool children readily discern connections between many things, using their imaginations to use every day objects as imaginary props in their adventures. Preschool children love using metaphors to describe things. While they are excellent connectors, their connections are superficial and cannot be continued when trying to synthesise things in adulthood. The natural human connecting ability is charming but hardly sufficient for adult life.

On the other hand, by middle childhood, the human connecting impulse, while still there, has been chastened or corralled to where we shy away from proposing fresh comparisons for fear of them being inexact or illegitimate. In this way human beings turn out to be creatures that are quite context or site-specific and do not apply skills or concepts widely. Professional training only reinforces these tendencies, making people more set in their ways of doing things and making it more difficult to transfer lessons from one area or discipline to another. Aristotle deemed the capacity to create apt metaphors as a sign of genius as it is such a difficult task for the average person to make comparisons between two differing fields.

So how do you develop a synthesising mind, and is it possible to develop a disciplined mind while still keeping alive the potential for synthetic thinking? We have already noted the strong tendency of young children to see and make connections easily. This cognitive skill constitutes an invaluable deposit in ones intellectual bank that can be drawn upon at a later stage of life. Therefore we should be careful to celebrate and not censor or curtail the connections that are effortlessly made by young minds.

For the most part, the synthesising mind achieves little formal attention during the school years. Exposure to the occasional adult synthesiser, mass media presentation and the reading of a wide range of books might prove productive in the development of connections in the long run. School projects and theme-related curricula can also help to aid the formation of connections, but it is important to provide explicit standards in judging these projects, taking care to explain that good connection need to come from the appropriate domain or discipline. Educators must keep open the possibilities of connection making and honour the plurality of appropriate connections while identifying those syntheses that are lacking or flawed.

Explicit instruction about forms of synthesis and hints about how to create them will be beneficial for young synthesisers to learn. Also, the more ways that an individual can represent the same idea or concept, the more likely they are to come up with a potent synthesis of those ideas, so children should be encouraged to find as many ways as possible to represent an idea from different angles. In addition it is important for young people to be exposed to multi-perspectivalism. This involves students acquiring a better understanding of a specific subject or concept if they can appreciate the various perspectives from different areas of study that explain it. While a secondary-school student is not able to contribute original knowledge, they are able to appreciate the respective strengths of two or more perspectives and are therefore in a much stronger position to integrate or synthesise these strands of knowledge.

The stance of multi-perspectivalism is very useful in the workplace. If different professionals from different fields working together can learn to anticipate the concerns of their colleagues then the prospect of productive, goal-directed teamwork is enhanced. In addition, many projects are enhanced when individuals of different economic, social, ethnic, and racial backgrounds work together to find solutions.

In the distant past, a comprehensive synthesising mind seemed within reach. Knowledge accumulated far more gradually and wise persons had at least a rough grasp of the full body of knowledge. But we live in a time where our most talented minds know more and more about increasingly narrow spheres. The division of labour has swept the marketplace of ideas as well and there is no reason to expect the drive toward specialisation will be stemmed. Therefore, we need to make a concerted effort to develop this important mental capacity in society.

The Creating Mind

The creating mind is able to go beyond existing knowledge and synthesis to pose new questions, offer new solutions, fashion works that stretch existing genres or configure new ones.

In our globally wired society, creativity is sought after, cultivated and praised. But it was not always so. In most human societies, throughout most of human history, creativity was neither sought after nor rewarded. In the past, creative individuals in society were at best a mixed blessing, often disdained, discouraged and even destroyed at the time of their breakthroughs. Our time is different. Almost every task that can be routinely carried out will be sooner or later taken over by computers. Virtually all innovation can be communicated almost instantly the world over, available to be built on by another with the requisite disciplinary skills, understanding and motivation. Until recently, creativity was seen as the trait of certain individuals who could use this talent across various performance domains. However, in recent years this viewpoint has changed as we recognise a variety of relatively independent creative endeavours that do not stretch over to other areas.

Most creativity is the result of the interaction of three elements:

  1. The individual who has mastered some discipline or domain of practice and is steadily issuing variation in that domain.
  2. The cultural domain in which an individual is working, with its models, prescriptions and proscriptions.
  3. The social field – those individuals and institutions that provide access to relevant educational experiences as well as opportunities to perform.

Creativity occurs when an individual or group product, generated in a particular domain, is recognised by the relevant field as innovative and exerts a genuine, detectable influence on subsequent work in that domain. Quite simply, has the domain in which you operate been significantly altered by your contribution?

There is a difference between creators and experts. An expert is an individual who, after a decade or more of training, has reached the pinnacle of current practice in their chosen domain. The world depends on experts, but they are not creators. A creator stands out in terms of temperament, personality and stance. They are perennially dissatisfied with current work, standards, questions and answers. They strike out in unfamiliar directions and enjoy being different from the pack. They do not shrink away from the unexpected, but seek to understand it and determine whether it constitutes a trivial error or an important unknown truth. They are tough skinned and robust. Creators fail frequently and often dramatically, but it is those who are willing to pick themselves up and try again that are likely to forge creative achievements.

In education, an individual on a strict disciplinary track masters the key literacies and then begins a study of disciplines like mathematics, science and history on the way to becoming an expert. But too strict an adherence to a disciplinary track operates against the more open stances of the synthesiser or creator, and therefore options need to be kept open in order to not stifle the development of these freer minds.

Young children, before the age of formal schooling, express the height of creative powers; therefore, the challenge of the educator is to keep alive the mind and the sensibility of the young child. Accordingly, a generic formula can be put forth for the nurturing of creative minds in the first decade of life. Following a period of open exploration in early childhood, it is appropriate to master literacy and the disciplines. However, it is vital to keep open alternative possibilities and exploration, exposing youngsters to creative persons and introducing new pursuits. In the middle childhood years, parents should make sure that their children pursue hobbies or activities that do not feature a single right answer, but where they can create and invent new things.

Creating minds also need to develop multiple, diverse representations of the same entity. Such multiple representations are ideal for new ways of thinking about an entity, problem or question.

As students enter adolescence, they become capable of envisioning possibilities that are quite different from their current realities. Here elders have a responsibility to introduce instances and systems that operate according to different rules, allowing the adolescent mind to create from there.

There are many parallels between the synthesising and the creating minds. Both require a baseline of literacy and discipline. Both benefit from the provision of multiple examples, exposure to multiple role models and the construction of multiple representations of the same general topic. Indeed, no sharp line separates synthesis from creation and some of the best creations emerge from attempts at synthesis. Yet the impulses behind the two mental stances are distinctive. The synthesisers’ goal is to place what has already been established in as useful and illuminating a form as possible, while the creators’ goal is to extend knowledge and to guide a set of practices along new directions. The synthesiser seeks order, equilibrium and closure, with the creator is motivated by uncertainty, surprise, and continual challenge. No society can be composed only of creators for they are by nature destabilising.

The Respectful Mind

The respectful mind responds sympathetically and constructively to differences among individuals and among groups, seeking to understand and work with those who are different, extending beyond mere tolerance and political correctness.

Humans exhibit a deep-seated tendency to create groups, to provide distinctive marks for these collectives and to adopt clearly positive or negative attitudes towards neighbouring groups. We are inclined to delineate groups, to identify with and value members of our own group and to adopt caution when dealing with other groups. However, even if biological bases can be found for division between groups, every generation must attempt to deal with these stereotypes and prejudices and to overcome them for peace and unity.

While outlawing war and weapons in an attempt at bringing peach is a noble idea, it is a very unlikely solution. However, a more reasonable goal is the cultivation of respect for others. With more than 6-billion people inhabiting the planet, we need to learn how to inhabit the planet without hating one another, wanting to kill one another or acting on xenophobic inclinations. The concept of respect for one another expresses an acknowledgement of the differences between people without seeking to annihilate them, but to learn to live with them and value those who belong to other groups.

Detection of differences is part of human cognition and is impossible to stem, but how those differences are labelled and interpreted is a cultural phenomenon. By the age of five, the lines of friendship or hostility, group inclusion or exclusion, love or hatred are already drawn. Based on what young children observe from others, they have already begun to adopt stances towards the groups to with they belong and those they don’t. What is important is whether young people attach moral significance to group membership. Is group A simply different from group B – which is ok, or is group A better or worse than group B?

The task of educators is to fashion persons who respect differences. In order to do this we need to provide models and offer lessons that encourage a sympathetic stance. Messages of respect or disrespect or intolerance are signalled throughout society. Genuine measures of respect are detectable every day when no one is actively looking. If one wishes to raise individuals who are respectful of differences across groups, a special burden is placed on education in the social sciences, the human sciences, the arts and literature. These subjects cannot bypass issues of respect as they are not pure disciplinary studies, but need to confront directly the value of respect, the cost of respect and the greater costs of disrespect in the long run. Terrorism has many causes, but surely a feeling of alienation in ones current abode – often felt be the millions of immigrants from Africa, Asia and the poorer regions of Europe – is chief among them. As one passes through the years of middle childhood and enters adolescence, a significant amount of time should be spent dealing with issues of group membership and conflict.

In the workplace and in civil society respect is equally important. It is evident that organisations and communities work more effectively when the individuals within them seek to understand one another, to help one another, and to work together for common goals. Examples of positive leadership are crucial here and clear penalties for disrespect. Also, respect within an organisation is difficult to maintain when those outside the organisation are deemed the enemy. After all, ones competitors are human too and after the next merger or takeover, you might find yourself inside the former rival.

Also important in the workplace is how successful teamwork depends more on the management skills than the technical expertise of their leaders. Team members respond favourably when their suggestions are taken seriously and if they are encouraged to ask questions of one another, to weigh the pros and cons of alternatives and to advocate positions other than their own, as this approach promotes buy in once a decision has been made.

There is also the case of false respect when people will act respectfully when they have something to gain from it, or who show respect in public settings, but revert back to stereotypical jokes when they are in private. Political correctness refers to speaking and acting positively toward a certain group just because that group has in the past been subjected to mistreatment.

A truly respectful individual offers the benefit of the doubt to all human beings. They avoid thinking in group terms and remain open to the possibility that their past judgement of others may have been wrong. They are alert for a change in behaviour that will reinstate a feeling of respect towards others.

The Ethical Mind

The Ethical mind is able to merge roles at work and as a citizen and act consistently with those conceptualisations, striving towards good work and good citizenship.

We all want to live in a world characterised by good work that is excellent, ethical and engaging. Many people might look the picture of professionalism in an expensive suit with impeccable manners, but if they are executing compromised work they are not ethical members of society. We all need to be committed individuals who embody an ethical orientation in our work. This ethical manner should also include civic roles where each of us should have the commitment to personally work towards the realisation of a virtuous community that one can be proud of.

An ethical orientation begins at home where children observe their parents at their work and play and in civic responsibilities. In contemporary society, peers and colleagues also assume importance from an early age, and the quality of one’s peers proves especially critical during adolescence in the development of ethical training.

There is no truly universal ethics or principles across all cultures and eras, yet a good worker does generally have a set of principles and values that they can state explicitly that they live by. These principles are consistent with one another and are kept in mind constantly. The worker is transparent and does not hide what they are doing. Ethical workers are also not hypocritical but abide by their guiding principles even when they go against their own self-interest.

Ethical talk often seems to go against the economic forces of self-interest that form an important part of our modern societies. The markets can be cruel and hard. Jonathan Sacks said that “When everything that matters can be bought and sold, when commitments can be broken because they are no longer to our advantage, when shopping becomes salvation and advertising slogans become our litany, when our worth is measured by how much we earn and spend, then the market is destroying the very virtues on which in the long run it depends.”

Good work carried out ethically is easier when the worker is wearing a single occupational hat and knows exactly what that hat does and does not entail. It is when a worker has the pressures of two or more unaligned pressures (from clients and shareholders perhaps) that compromised work is more likely to emerge. In the wake of scandals in the workplace, the call for ethics courses has been ubiquitous. The business institutions charged with the education of individuals in business and the professions need to respond to this request. However, to date, too many business schools have been training managers in a purely technical manner and have been content to ignore ethical issues. Any professional must be trained in the ethical mind for the good of the individual and society as a whole.

Whether a person becomes a good worker depends on whether they are disposed to carry out good work and are willing to keep on trying to achieve that end when the going gets tough. There are four M’s that can help in the achievement of good work.

  1. Mission – an individual should specify what he/she is trying to achieve in their activities. The explicit knowledge of one’s goals will help the person to move forward in the right direction and avoid trouble.
  2. Models – it is important to have exposure to individuals who themselves embody good work.
  3. Mirror test (individual) – the aspiring good worker must, from time to time, look into the mirror and see whether they are proceeding in ways in which they approve and can feel proud of.
  4. Mirror test (professional responsibility) – while a young worker may be doing good work oneself, each person has a professional responsibility to report the unprofessional behaviour of colleagues. There is an obligation to monitor what peers are doing and when necessary to call them to account.

In conclusion, regarding the development of these 5 minds in the lives of a  young children, parents and teachers should focus first on instilling a respectful mind, then a disciplined mind, followed by a synthesising mind and finally, in secondary school, an emphasis on ethics. Creativity goes hand in glove with disciplinary thinking. In the absence of relevant disciplines, it is not possible to be genuinely creative and in the absence of creativity, disciplines can be used only to go over the status quo.

While each person may have strengths in one or more area, we should all endeavour to develop a balance of all 5 minds. Whatever their importance in times past, these five minds are likely to be crucial in a world marked by the hegemony of science and technology, global transmission of information, handling of routine tasks by computers and increasing contact between diverse populations. Those who succeed in cultivating the pentad of minds are most likely to thrive in the world.

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