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Anthology Storytelling 1 - Storytelling in the age of the internet, new technologies, data, artificial intelligence
EDUCATION, PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT, LEADERSHIP, THERAPY
The ability to tell stories that engage others and compel them to act or feel
An interview with Howard Gardner
- Joel Allen Kurtzman -
The National Storytelling Festival And The Emergence Of The Storytelling Revival
Jimmy Neil Smith
A Therapist Should Be A Good Storyteller
How a Novelist and a Therapist are Alike
Digital Storytelling, Then And Now: From Academic Tool To Social Empowerment
The ability to tell stories that engage others and compel them to act or feel2
An interview with Howard Gardner
- JOEL ALLEN KURTZMAN -
When Howard Gardner published "Frames of Mind" (Basic Books) in 1983, it changed the way people thought about thinking and intelligence. Until that work, which was based on detailed psychological research, most academics, researchers and the general public viewed intelligence as rather uncomplicated -- something that could be measured with a few simple tests and summarized by a single number. That number, which signified a person's "intelligence quotient," was an indicator of an individual's verbal/linguistic and mathematical/logical abilities, the foundation of all thinking, people believed.
The view that intelligence was this uncomplicated emerged just before World War I. The tests that were then developed to measure a person's I.Q., like the Stanford-Binet, were first employed during World War I to find soldiers who could be trained as officers and for special technical assignments. In one form or another, the idea of a single intelligence gained ascendancy.
While not disputing that verbal/linguistic and mathematical/logical abilities are important, Professor Gardner, who is co-director of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the school's John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor in Cognition and Education, developed the concept of multiple intelligences.
Initially, Professor Gardner's investigation added five distinct intelligences to a list that began with verbal/linguistic and mathematical/logical. The additional intelligences were visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Recently, Professor Gardner's theories on interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences have been popularized as "emotional intelligence," or E.Q. More recently, Professor Gardner posited an eighth intelligence, which he terms "naturalist" -- the ability of individuals to relate to nature -- and a ninth, the existential intelligence.
Professor Gardner's theories of multiple intelligences have formed the basis for reforms in education and teaching. The aim of Project Zero is to bring the theory of multiple intelligences into the classroom through new curricula, tests and assessment devices.
For his work, Professor Gardner has received many awards, including a MacArthur Prize, often called a "genius grant."
The importance of Professor Gardner's theories, which are spelled out in 18 books, is not, however, limited to education; they also have widespread business implications. According to Professor Gardner, knowledge of multiple intelligences can help companies build better teams, solve problems and make decisions more effectively. Knowledge of multiple intelligences also plays a role in leadership and in developing the right leaders for the right tasks and times.
In his most recent book, "Extraordinary Minds" (Basic Books, 1997), Professor Gardner examines four people of tremendous ability: Mozart, Freud, Virginia Woolf and Gandhi. Using these four extraordinary, but very different, people, he attempts to answer a question once posed by Plato and still asked today: Is there a set of traits that is shared among all great achievers no matter how different their achievements? The book asserts that leaders do share a significant number of characteristics, including the ability to tell stories that engage others and compel them to act or feel.
What follows is excerpted from a conversation about leadership and problem-solving that recently took place with Professor Gardner in Cambridge, Mass.
JOEL KURTZMAN You are an educator whose area of expertise is education, but your contributions to the body of knowledge on the nature of intelligence, the structure of decision-making and the origins of leadership can help us uncover some "higher truths" that are relevant to people in business. I want to explore each of these topics, but let's start with leadership.
HOWARD GARDNER: If I'm known in the business world, it's because I've written something about that. I've done a generic study of leadership focusing on individuals who are outstanding leaders. I believe my study applies to leadership on a quite ordinary level, from families to small businesses, as well as to that provided by institutions and organizations.
And the basic point is that leadership involves the creation of powerful narratives, narratives that are much more than mission statements or messages. They are actually stories where there are goals and obstacles, where good and bad things can happen along the way and where the people involved feel part of an enterprise that's trying to end up in a better place.
In order for a story to be effective in the long run, though, it must be "embodied." The individual or institution that bears the narrative must behave consistently with it. Because if you tell one story but you live another -- if you don't walk the talk, to use the vernacular -- then the story doesn't have appeal.
If you're a very good embodier, though, you don't have to be such a good storyteller because your symbolic behavior really conveys the point. That's interesting in the corporate sense because the more you're trying to create a new business, or change a business radically, the more important is the story you tell. But for an organization that's very well launched, where the story is quite set and you don't need to change it -- as in the Army or the Catholic Church -- it is only important that you embody the story.
Now, what makes this a non-trivial theory, I think, is my realization that everyone has millions of stories in their minds already and that for a new story to have any impact it has to win a Darwinian kind of contest: It must slay the competing stories. That's very difficult to do, and most of the time it won't work. Either the story will be assimilated into something that is already known or it will be seen as being so at odds with what's already known and believed that it won't have any impact.
The best storytellers are those who can tell a story that's strange enough to get people's attention but not so strange that the people can't eventually make it part of their own consciousness.
JOEL KURTZMAN: Is there a taxonomy of these stories?
HOWARD GARDNER: No, but I have become convinced that what I call existential stories are very important. These stories tell us who we are and what we're trying to achieve. Again, it doesn't matter if it's a family, a business or a country you're trying to lead: People have a real thirst for stories that give them a better sense of how they belong.
I make a big distinction, though, between inclusionary and exclusionary stories. And this is an interesting notion from the point of view of business. Inclusionary stories try to incorporate more and more people; exclusionary ones pit people against one another. I thought, when I began the inquiry, that inclusionary stories were necessarily better, but in fact they can be very risky because you risk losing your core constituency if the story is too inclusive. And exclusionary stories are often very powerful for motivating people.
So these are tools in the hands of a leader. Now, how to connect this to business decisions and devising strategy? Very often, when you're involved in that sphere, you're actually trying to change people's beliefs, their actions and their feelings. By definition, a leader is an individual or institution that significantly affects the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of large numbers of other people or institutions.
And the capacity to bring about these changes is really a leadership challenge. It's not a management challenge, which is basically maintenance.
JOEL KURTZMAN: Can you go into more detail on the stories themselves? Do they, for instance, share certain characteristics?
HOWARD GARDNER: I can put it in a pretty simple form. First, a story must have a goal that is stated and that is recognizable; a person needs to know whether he or she is getting closer to it or not.
Then there will invariably be some kinds of obstacles. These also must be recognizable. And there must be various approaches for dealing with these obstacles, which can include avoiding them, neutralizing them, finding allies, pushing them off on adversaries or even framing things differently so that the obstacles aren't seen as obstacles anymore.
And then you need to plot your course and measure how you are doing...