This review of Howard Gardner’s “Changing Minds” I wrote on July 4, 2004 on www.jregrassroots.org and re-posted it on Science And Politics on August 25, 2004, so the political implications are quite outdated….
Howard Gardner Changing Minds
Yesterday I finished Howard Gardner’s “Changing Minds”. Gardner is a cognitive psychologist, famous for his theory of multiple intelligencies (“eight and a half” kinds, so far). In this book he applies his theory to the question of changing minds, including changing one’s own mind, minds of one or two closest friends/family/lovers, as well as minds of many people in a business, classroom, or nation.
He came up with seven factors that influence the mind-change, as well as six situations (or levels) of mind-change (e.g., some of those listed above, i.e., who’s the audience and how many are there, as well as how homogenous they are in their thinking, and how well educated on the issue). He uses some well-known examples, for instance Maggie Thatcher, Bill Clinton and GW Bush in the political realm, Darwin, Freud, Einstein in the realm of “ideas”, etc. to illustrate what he means. Examples include both successful and unsuccsesful attempts at mind change, as one can learn from both.
Although it is a scholarly work, reading it is a breeze – after all, Gardner has written several bestsellers already. Also, this is not a “self-help” book. It is descriptive and analytical, but does not provide any ready-made cookie-cutter advice how to go about changing people’s minds. One needs to absorb the content and devise one’s own ideosyncratic strategies using his principles, but modified for each individual’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the nature of the “message” and intended audience.
The book was finished just before the primaries started, so there is no mention of the Democratic challengers (I wish I knew his view), and the book is maddeningly unbiased – I wanted him to savage Bush, but he does not (he does later on NPR, …months later).
Still, throughout reading the book, I could not help but notice that everything he states about succesful strategy is embodied in [John] Edwards and the way he conducted his campaign, from ads and speeches, through “Real Solutions” [booklet] and Four Trials, to the way he looks, talks and dresses. No wonder he changed so many minds. Unfortunately, before he had time to change enough minds, the primary was over, and the only audience that mattered was also the only audience to which he does not appeal – the jaded sour Washington insiders and “academic” liberals. After reading the book, I understand why.
My reading of the book also makes me worry about Kerry, although he seems to be getting some good advice lately and is improving his message and presentation. There was a passage in the book that really made me think that he had to put JRE [Edwards] as VP if he wants to win. The two of them appeal to very different audiences (in Gardner’s sense of the word “audience”) and together, they can win them all. Any other VP contender appeals to the same audience that Kerry appeals to anyway. A John/John ticket, no matter which John is on top, if Gardner’s theory is correct, should be able to change enough minds to win in November.
A sub-chapter at the end of the book, about fundamentalist way of thinking – the most difficult mind to change – is quite enlightening. How and why people join fundamentalist organizations, and how they manage to leave them is an intriguing question, and thinking in Gardner’s terms is quite insightful. I strongly suggest reading this book, both for understanding of political campaigning, and for personal improvement of managerial, educational and inter-personal skills.