February 22, 2005
News & Opinion: Changing Minds by Howard Gardner
I picked up Howard Gardners book Changing Minds with the hope that it contained some sure fire tricks for getting people to come around and see things my way. Unfortunately, there are no such tricks, but there are some helpful ideas. Howard Gardner begins the book by talking about theories of mind, how we acquire ideas, and how our minds change. He then transitions into chapters that present the levers of change, which are: reason, research, resonance, redescriptions, resources and rewards, real world events, and resistances. The rest of the book talks about these levers of change, how they work, when they work, and gives examples of them in action. The book contained some very interesting information, with the following passage being one of the most striking: Studies of moral development, for example, show that individuals at X stage of sophistication are likely to be persuaded by arguments that are couched at X+1 level of complexity. Thus, youngsters at the might = right level find convincing an argument that states that a person who is smart or moral might be more worthy of resources than a person with bigger muscles. If the complexity is greater, say +2 or +3 stages, then the youngsters cannot assimilate the argument and simply ignore it (arguments in terms of complex concepts like distributive justice or the categorical imperative fall on the deaf ears of ten-year-olds). The passage made me wonder how much the quality of political debate in this country might improve if the educational system improved. It is also relevant to business in that when introducing a new product or service, you have to keep your explanation at a level that people can understand, or else they will just ignore your message. Gardner ends the book by discussing changing ones own mind, and offers a summary of what we have learned. The trick in psychosurgery (i.e. mindchanging) is to accept the changes that will happen anyway, acknowledge that certain other changes may be impossible, and concentrate ones efforts on those changes of mind that are important, wont occur naturally, but can be achieved with sufficient effort and motivation. In other words, pick your battles wisely. This book is pretty good overall, but is slow and technical in some places. This book would be most interesting to people who dont know much about psychology, or dont change their minds very often. The rest of you may find it too dry to finish.