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Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


‘How intelligent are you?’

We like to measure each other and measuring intelligence seems particularly important to some. Its practice has a long and often unpleasant history. Harvard psychologist, Howard Gardner, has done more than anybody to challenge the ‘single measure’ approach to understanding intelligence, and has introduced a more comprehensive understanding of intelligence.

Instead, Gardner proposed that a better question is:

‘How are you intelligent?’

… in what ways? He proposed that we each have a range of intelligences, which we deploy in varying strengths. Our talents derive from combinations of these intelligences.

Gardner has worked hard to define ‘intelligence’ and set criteria for which capacities to consider as intelligences. Predictably, each of these has attracted much debate. Gardner himself has settled on eight intelligences – others propose more.

Howard Gradner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence

Our ability to read, write and communicate using language, used by authors, journalists, orators, debaters and people who speak several languages.

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence

This is shown by analytical thinkers who value reason and are good at calculation; people well suited to science and engineering, the law and accountancy, economics and even detective work.

Visual/Spatial Intelligence

This makes us highly aware of spatial relationships, shape, colour and form; strong in artists, architects and designers – also navigators and cartographers.

Musical and Rhythmic Intelligence

Do you listen to, make or compose music? This intelligence makes you sensitive to tone, melody, harmony and rhythm. The term virtuoso applies to people such as singers, performers, and composers who have and deploy this intelligence to a high degree.

Bodily/Kinaesthetic Intelligence

This intelligence manifests in two ways – both linked to a precise awareness of movement, and control of our bodies.

  1. Some excel at balance and co-ordination, using their whole body with grace and power – think about sportspeople, actors and dancers.
  2. Others exercise control, but through precise use of their hands or feet, excelling in areas like sculpture, surgery, craft.

Interpersonal (Social) Intelligence

This helps us socialise and collaborate, giving an understanding of people (empathy) and helping us to put them at their ease. It accounts for confidence in making small-talk, listening intently and leading naturally. Teachers, therapists, nurses and good salespeople excel interpersonally.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

This reflects both the ability to reflect and introspect (mindfulness), and our ability to manage our own motivation, feelings and behaviour.

* For more on Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Intelligences, take a look at this Pocketblog: There’s more to Emotional Intelligence than Daniel Goleman.

Naturalist Intelligence

Stamp collectors exhibit this intelligence in a world apart from nature: they love to collect. The naturalist has affinity for the natural world, understanding how it works and often having an uncanny knack for memorising hundreds of names. If they can, they collect – rocks, insects, photos – anything. Gardeners, pet-owners, environmentalists, and scientists exercise this intelligence. So too do the people who photograph bus, train or lorry numbers.

Critique

If we each have different strengths, then the power of a team comes from its diversity and therefore the abilities of its members to apply differences intelligences to the problems they must solve and the decisions they must take.

Gardner’s work has polarised debate in some quarters of education and psychology. Some love it; it fits with their world view, making intelligence more egalitarian and recognising that there is more to learning and knowledge than literacy and numeracy. Others challenge its lack of empirical support from either well-validated testing processes or neurology.

However, many educators find plenty of support in the educational results they attain, using it to guide their teaching. For managers, this offers a powerful model of learning styles which can be applied to developing people, and a valuable way to understand why a diverse team will outperform a homogeneous one. As Gardner notes:

These intelligences are fictions – at most, useful fictions
– for discussing processes and abilities that (like all of life)
are continuous with one another.’

 Further Reading

  1. The Learner’s Pocketbook
  2. The Accelerated Learning Pocketbook
  3. Frames of Mind: Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner, Basic Books, 4th Edition, 2011
  4. Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences, the encyclopedia of informal education, Smith, Mark K. (2002, 2008), www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm
  5. Pocketblog: There’s more to Emotional Intelligence than Daniel Goleman
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