February 22, 2005
News & Opinion: Changing Minds by Howard Gardner
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.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.