63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
For well over 10 years, Howard Gardner has been writing books exploring many aspects of the mind - from how the mind creates, to traits leaders have. Following this path, he has now written a book exploring the phenomenon of mind changing. How do we do it? What plays a factor in it? Why is it so dang hard to convincce people to give up well cherished (wrong) beliefs for new (right) ones?
The problem is that we get only the vaguest of answers to these questions. As I like to say, the best psychology tells us most of the things we already knew (but may not have known we knew). This book follows suit. It might explain which of the seven "factors" (listed by the reviewer below) plays a part in different mind changing situations, but hardly eluminates beyond that.
For instance, in a chapter devoted to how politicians try and change our minds, we hear about Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (both iconoclasts who were successful in the end at mind changing). The explanation to their success in mind changin is that they were able to tell their story, their nation's story, and a vision for the country's future, in different conceptual language than their opponents (and convine us that their own story was better. That answer seems quite right, but I was hoping it would be followed by examples of how they did this - how they told stories different from their opponents, while gradually winning acceptance for them. Gardner hardly gives any.
Much of the book is like this. After he explains the general principles utilized in one situation, he doesn't bolster it with detail and example, but simply moves on to the next situation.
What it all makes for is a somewhat (somewhat!) interesting, but hardly revealing, book.
69 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2004
Howard Gardner is probably best known for his theory that human intelligence has at least 8 dimensions, each dimension requiring acknowledgement and development. His work is generally considered part of the 'constructivist' school of psychology, which seeks to correct various failings in the standard American philosophy of mind: behaviorism. For the behaviorist, scientist can only discuss measurable and repeatable phenomena. 'Anecdotal' stories are explicitly disqualified, with particular emphasis on 'privileged insight' of our own 'self'. This leads to a favorite constructivist joke about behaviorists, which Gardener quotes early in the book: "So the two behaviorists had just finished making love, and the first one turns to the other, and says, 'It was good for you, was it good for me?'"
Constructivism seeks to remove the straightjacket behaviorism imposes on scientific dialog. It holds that learners impose meaning on the world, and so "construct" their own understanding based on their unique experiences. I mention this to put 'Changing Minds' in context. Constructivism is far from 'accepted' among academics or the general population. Despite Gardner's claims to the contrary, most academics would argue his theories are non-scientific, anecdotal gobbly-gook. He fails to obey the behaviorist dogma about relying on probability and measurable phenomena, and should not be allowed any voice in 'scientific academia'. Without this backdrop of academic controversy, the book's message will seem oddly out of balance. Gardner's themes don't really emerge naturally for the reader. This occurs because his arguments are designed to address an academic milieu the general reader will not know.
Gardener sidesteps the academic debates by addressing the needs of educators rather than psychologists. According to Gardner, the school is an environment for 'changing minds'. This is going to sound a bit odd to most, since most would argue school is for 'imparting truths' upon the 'blank slates' of student minds. It isn't a matter of 'changing minds', but putting something there in the first place. Though strange to see this material presented as 'business literature', the emphasis on education over 'theory' provides Gardner an escape from academic nihilism.
Changing the minds of students involves engaging the ideas occupying student attention and reshaping them to more closely approximate some goal. For Gardner, 4 classes of 'ideas' can be distinguished:
A. Concepts: the elementary units of logic. The notion 'dog' is a concept.
B. Stories: the narrative flow of conceptual units producing emotional response. For example, the feeling 'I understand' is an emotional response to a good story.
C. Theories: Stories, when generalized, become theories
D. Skills: Phenomena the 'self' or 'mind' can generate via an activating sequence of bodily motions.
The process of 'molding' involves 'representational redescription' of their attention. Gardner comes back to this theme over and over, again. Change can only take place when the representational models take new forms. This requires the 'change agent' (teacher) to engage the student in a process of tearing up the existing model and reconstructing it in a new form. This produces new theories about how the world works. These efforts are aided by 'resonance', an emotional experience reinforcing the 'new model'. They are inhibited by 'resistance', or attachments to the old models. Additionally, the teacher must be prepared for either abrupt or gradual change. Gardner unfortunately ignores the mental mechanics of 'changing minds', but he is quite willing to acknowledge it takes its own pace. The slow is just as effective as the fast.
Gardener argues there are 7 factors (levers). Each must be considered when the 'change agent' (teacher) designs the process of tearing up the old model and reconstructing something different.
1. Reason-the act of logical inspection
2. Research-the act of study
3. Resonance-the experience of 'understanding'
4. Representational redescriptions: with out the images. Nothing happens
5. Resources and rewards
6. Real world event
7. Resistance-persistent images which the audience is attached to
Additionally, the change agent must consider the social setting.
A. Is his presentation 'face to face' or indirect?
B. Is the presentation directed at a homogeneous audience, or one with significant disagreements?
C. Someone else, or the change agent themselves?
With this in mind, Gardner generalizes the realm of 'politics' as one where 'the change audience' is approached 'directly', the audience is diverse and the focus 'external' to the agent. On the other hand, a doctor's approach is direct; the audience has one frame of mind and is 'external' to the agent. In contrast, a scientist changes minds indirectly via his publications.
Finally, Gardner suggests being aware of the audience's initial state of mind. In some cases this is a matter of expectations, but other times the 'initial state' is a function of recent events. For example, at the start of the ideal class, the 'students' are all alert, well fed and eager to understand the teacher's logical presentation. The reality is that many students will be dealing with fear, distrust, dislikes, pain, language differences and disinterest.
After making some rather futile attempts to illustrate these ideas with 'the lives of famous people', Gardner offers a token plan: Before launching into a change program, answer the following questions:
1. What is the redescriptional goal: Do you want to 'redescribe' a concept? a story? a skill?
2. Who is your audience? Are they diverse?
3. What is your relationship with the audience?
4. What impact will the 'change plan' have on audience?
5. Which of the 7 factors (levers) is most important?
6. Is the change ethical? Is the world better off after the change has been made?
This above plan relies heavily on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a program widely derided by academics. In particular, the standard NLP question 'is the change ethical' represents something of a logical land mine for this somewhat academic presentation. Entire books are devoted to this topic.
Overall, 'Changing Minds' suffers an inability to focus on a straightforward message. Despite this, the suggestions are more than worthy of your attention. The book is well worth the effort required to tease out some meaning.
111 of 128 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2004
Howard Gardner is an education thought-leader who has changed minds at many levels - among his students, with educators and society at large. In "Changing Minds", Howard Gardner re-examines concepts presented in his earlier works - i.e. multiple intelligences, the "disciplined" mind, the importance of integrating ethics with instruction/leadership, etc. He then presents seven "levers" for changing minds and discusses their application at various levels of mind change (from societal to intimate relationships). As usual, Gardner has produced an important, well organized book supported with excellent real-world examples. Unfortunately, the book stops short of providing specific tools and techniques for applying his model for changing minds. Perhaps in a sequel, Gardner will share more specific tools and techniques that may be used to "map the mental terrain", compile and present convincing research, build resonance and breakdown resistance. (Those looking for more detail may want to dig deeper into the tools/techniques used in organizational development, team-building, leadership development and self-awareness.) Nevertheless, a book worth reading for the model presented and reminder that one must keep both the mind and ears open to effectively change others.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2005
I found the analysis of some mind changing examples much more instructive than the very general "7 levers." Even so, most of the analyses were still not detailed enough. I felt as though I had the view from 30 thousand feet and wanted a better view into the process.
There is a lot of good information here, but keep expectations moderate.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2004
I'm disappointed with this book. Gardner spends the first few chapters seemingly laying a foundation for what's to come, then squanders it with essentially a bunch of anecdotes. It really seems less like an integrated, well-researched theory than "My opinion, by a famous psychologist." Quite often it feels as though he's stretching his "7 factors for changing minds" to fit his anecdotes. It also feels as though he's casting around for stories to throw in. "Oh, hey, I had a friend who changed people's minds! Why don't I include him?" And so he does. I had the distinct impression, as other readers seem to, that he wrote this book under duress, or because he and Harvard Business Publishing thought there might be a willing market. Unfortunately, I was part of that market and I've now learned to trust their brand a little less next time.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Whenever I meet new clients, they tell me that if they can just get those who disagree with them to agree they will have no more problems. Embedded in that observation is a belief that they have all the facts and have correctly interpreted those facts. A corollary is that anyone who disagrees is either misinformed or an idiot.
Usually, what I find instead is that my new clients have listened very well to what people have been telling them and haven't explained their own point of view very well. The right solution is usually to create a new solution together and implement as a cooperative team.
Somewhere along the way, the new clients forget the "us" and "they" mentality and wonder what in the world I did to help them. The eventual solution seems obvious in retrospect . . . and they forget that there was ever disagreement. That's how subtle the process of changing minds is. Except for the most self-aware, we just wake up one day with a new set of ideas. I'm reminded of the advertisement for FedEx where the leader asks for ways to cut costs. A shy man quietly suggests using FedEx. Everyone ignores what he says until the leader repeats the idea . . . and then everyone applauds. The shy man challenges the leader who defends himself by saying that he changed the hand gestures used to make the pronouncement . . . and that made all the difference.
In other words, we love to be in charge . . . even when someone else has changed our mind.
The whole process remains mysterious. After reading Changing Minds, those who find the process mysterious will continue to find it so. But those who have some insight into the process will find meta-models for structuring their strategies and tactics of persuasion and education.
The first 67 pages of the book encapsulate Professor Gardner's valuable work on cognitive thinking, including multiple intelligences, mental representations, and their interaction in six arenas of mind changing. At this point, many eyes would roll at the thought of such a complex matrix.
But Professor Gardner provides relief for the reader by using incredibly subtle stories to capture the primary ways to use multiple intelligences and mental representations to good effect in various mind-changing arenas.
To give you a sense of how subtle these stories are, Changing Minds has a precise example that I can apply to a mind-changing problem that I perpetually face, helping people appreciate the potential for 2,000 percent solutions (20 times better results from the same time and effort). Yet, I had to read the example a number of times before its power sunk in for me. I'm sure at some subconscious level I got the point sooner, but my conscious "aha" took a while. And I've read many of Professor Gardner's earlier books involving some of the same examples.
Professor Gardner is well known for having been the recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, the so-called "genius" award. With this book, I began to see for the first time the full range of his genius. It's impressive.
What's my advice for you? Read this book several times. Put it down and read it again in a year. In the meantime, read some other books about changing minds (on topics like negotiation, persuasion, story-telling, and so forth). Then, it'll all come together for you.
88 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2004
One key to success is the ability to influence people's thinking. Whether one is attempting to introduce a major organizational change or convince consumers to switch brands, the ability to change people minds is an important business process.
Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist who specializes in cognitive theory, offers us insight into what happens when one changes his or her mind. In order to change someone's mind, Gardner writes, one has to produce a shift in that person's perceptions, codes and the way he or she retains and accesses information.
There are seven levers to change, he says.
6. Real World Events
Gardner explores how these levers are employed in six realms.
1. Diverse Groups - such as a nation.
2. Homogeneous Groups - corporations, universities.
3. Culture - Changes effected by art, science or scholarship.
5. Intimate Gatherings - one-on-one meetings, family gathering.
6. Changes within one's mind.
This book is enlightening and compelling. It offers insights into the methods one can employ to influence others and oneself.
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2004
As an industrial-organizational psychologist, I became a fan of Howard Gardner's work on intelligences in graduate school. I was very excited to see a book written by a such a respected cognitive psychologist. However, this book was beyond disappointing.
There was little structure in the book. It seemed like endless ramblings of an old man. Dr. Gardner certainly knows little about business. His few business examples were surface attempts of a person who did not know what he was talking about. So, he frequently used politicians to make a point. When you read this you will soon realize that all Democrats are examples of the good way while all Republicans represent the wrong way. I was looking for advice on change management, not political advice, thank you.
I wasted an entire three-day weekend certain that I was bound to find something of worth here, but to no avail. At the start, Dr. Garder talks about how Harvard Business Review has pushed him to write a book for some time. He tried but failed at earlier attempts. I'll bet they will not ask again.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2004
In this book, prolific and influential Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner sketches out a framework for thinking about changes of mind. In chapters 1-3, Gardner introduces seven factors that influence changes of mind. Remaining chapters provide examples from different levels of society: national, institutional, educational, interpersonal, etc. A lot of ground is covered very fast.
Readers who buy the book in hopes of getting practical tips on how to influence others, are likely to be disappointed. It is really more of a theoretical (though easy-to-read) outline than a practical how-to book. Although it is issued by the Harvard Business School Press, and written (as Gardner says in the preface) for a business audience, there are very few actual business examples in the book.
The book deliberately ignores the more-harmful ways of changing minds such as propaganda, fanaticism, fear, and terror. This is unfortunate, since in today's world the defence against harmful ideology takes on the utmost importance. Also neglected, although briefly mentioned, is the increasingly pervasive effectiveness of rhetoric in so many areas of life: politics, advertising, culture, business, and law, to name but a few. Finally, the book would have benefited if it had made contact with the emerging science of mimetics, the study of "how ideas colonize minds."
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2004
I purchased this book after hearing Mr. Gardner's awesome interview and commentary on NPR (you can download the show here: [...] ). I was looking for a book that was a practical guide to leveraging people's opinions and beliefs, identifying modes and techniques for changing minds, and understanding how this relates to cognitive science.
What I got instead was a social commentary on different famous leaders.. many many parables, while interesting, harder to relate to my own life. The system Mr. Gardner proposes for effecting mind change is sufficient for typifying or categorizing how people have accomplished this in the past.. but not as useful of a guide for learning how to do it yourself in the future. It is more for categorizing, instead of predicting and causing.
Still an interesting book, and I like his writing style, but certainly not what I anticipated. If you'd like to understand people better, and meet some theories on how to better influence them, I'd instead recommend a great introduction to Carl Rogers and his theories, "On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy". This presents concepts such as "congruence" that might help you better influence people.