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Book Review

Changing Minds

by Howard Gardner

Grade: B- (bring your dictionary!)

Minds are exceedingly hard to change. Ask any advertiser who has tried to convince consumers to switch brands, any CEO who has tried to change a company’s culture, or any individual who has tried to heal a rift with a friend. So many aspects of life are oriented toward changing minds—yet this phenomenon is among the least understood of familiar human experiences.

Whether we are attempting to change the mind of a nation or a corporation, our spouse’s mind or our own, this book provides insights that can broaden our horizons and improve our lives.

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 reexamines 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.)

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.

  • Is his presentation 'face to face' or indirect?
  • Is the presentation directed at a homogeneous audience, or one with significant disagreements?
  • Someone else, or the change agent themselves?

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.

Despite 'Changing Minds' inability to focus on a straightforward message the suggestions are more than worthy of your attention. The book is well worth the effort required to tease out some meaning.

From Amazon.com editorial reviews.