Career development and Our Many Intelligences by Clifford Morris

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The most important thing in thinking about our careers is to know what we are good at, to seek what we are good at, and to get feedback from others so we can continue to do what is a good match for us.  When we focus on what we are good at, we get positive feedback, which can't help but lead us to do more of the right things.  I don't think it makes sense to prepare for jobs.  Instead, people should think about the roles they want to play, and their underlying areas of competence (Kennedy, 1998, 72:4).
As Kennedy implies in the above quote, an important aspect of career development is our ongoing need to know our strengths.  A new dynamic model for identifying and profiling our intellectual strengths, the theme of this commentary, constitutes a major step in attempting to assess such competencies.  Our numerous intelligences can only be partially measured via the mainstream view of intelligence as a single general factor, normally named 'g' (Gottfredson, 1996, 1997, 1998).  As we tackle the new century, perhaps the time is now ripe to retrain ourselves into thinking that our intelligences do not stem solely from a language and logic frame of mind, a fossilized practice still assumed by many mainstream psychologists (Carroll, 1997; Herrnstein and Murray, 1994; Jensen 1969, 1982; Jensen & Weng, 1994; Siegel-Itzkovich, 1998).

The above model of the mind -- the thesis that employees have many different kinds of intelligences, with each intelligence using different parts of the brain -- has interesting ramifications for career development.  Stephen Jay Gould (1996) best sums up this need to look beyond the standardized intelligence quotient (IQ) test for real intelligences when he straightforwardly considers the use of psychological testing to rank ones' worth on the basis of a 'g' score, the major misuse of science in this century.   Perhaps it is time for workers to broaden their cognitive horizons and to assess their multiple intelligences (MI) as theorized by Howard Gardner (1987, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998a, 1999).

While research on using Gardner's MI model is prevalent in psychology (Chen and Gardner, 1997; Gardner, 1993, 1994, 1999) and in education (Collins, 1998; Gardner, 1998b,1999; Goldman and Gardner, 1988), limited information is available within the career development field as to how workers might successfully employ their more dominant intelligences. In short, that is the theme of this paper.  Clearly, the MI model assesses more than what IQ tests purport to measure -- a lot more.  What the MI model is and its possibilities within the career development field is now discussed.

Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

MI Theory "was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Howard Gardner and his colleagues" (Gardner, 1994, 2:740) and first formally outlined in his seminal work, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1983/1993; see also Gardner 1987, 1998a).  Simply put for here, in that book he proclaimed that our mental ability were not sole or fixed but that we possessed a blend of cognitive competencies that produced a unique intellectual profile.  Since that time, "Gardner's ideas have received widespread attention and acceptance among parents and have been eagerly embraced by teachers" (Collins, 1998, 152:62).

Criteria for Intelligences

At the outset of his research on MI, during the late sixties and early seventies, Gardner recognized that an important problem was that of setting up a rigorous and specific set of criteria for what counted as an intelligence (Lazear, 1999, p. v).  The evidence from which he drew his data came from an elaborate set of criteria stemming from a rich variety of dissimilar beginnings, including evidence from studies of brain damaged patients, prodigies, autistic individuals, geniuses, developmental psychology, cross cultural comparisons, biographies of gifted individuals and neurobiology.

His distress with the typical view of intelligence initially arose from his decades long research with talented children and with brain damaged adults.  His research results ultimately convinced him that anyone could be cognitively "at promise" or "at risk" in a certain area of skill, and that strength (or limitation) in one area failed to forecast accomplishments in another domain.  For example, if one was strong in telling stories, solving mathematical proofs, navigating around unfamiliar terrain, learning an unfamiliar song, mastering a new game that entailed dexterity, understanding others, or understanding oneself, one simply did not know whether comparable strengths (or weaknesses) could be found in other areas (Gardner, 1998b. E4).  While Gardner would be the first to admit that his list of eight ways of solving problems and making products are not all encompassing, he nevertheless believes that each of his intelligences showed a series of criteria or signs" (Chapman, 1993, p. 6).  To read his eight criteria, click here.

To sum up this section, Gardner believes that his eight (8) intelligences are utilized "in the performance of roles that cultures value around the world" (Collins, 1998, p, 63).  As such, his postulations do not fit well into either informational processing characteristics of intelligence or into the traditional and narrower factorial analysis 'g' approach.  In a nutshell, his views about human cognition are broader than that of practically any other mainstream cognitive psychologist.

Redefining Intelligence

Gardner's claim to fame has been his ability to redefine the psychological construct 'intelligence' which he defines as the ability or set of abilities that allows a person to solve a problem or to create and fashion a product in such a way that the product is considered useful and valued within one or more cultural settings (Gardner, 1993, x; Goleman and Gardner, 1988, 124).  This particular definition of intelligence emphasizes the creative and practical as well as the hypothetical-abstract aspects of a person's intellectual abilities.  The definition in innovative in that it acknowledges the importance of the person-in-context and the social influences that contribute to the recognition, activation and development of ones current skills (Gardner, 1998a).  Perhaps Marion Diamond and Janet Hopson (1998) best sum up Gardner's overall mental model when they comment that his works has "gotten enormous notoriety and acceptance in part because it conforms our commonsense observations" (p. 197).

Before defining most briefly for here his intelligences, one short comment about his two caveats.  His MI theory rests on two noteworthy points.  First of all, he claims that all of "Homo Sapiens" possess all of his intelligences but in varying degrees of strength, skill and limitation (Gardner, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998a, 1998b, 1999; see especially Goleman and Gardner, 1988).  His other claim is that "just as we all look different and have unique personalities and temperaments, we also have different profiles of intelligences" (Gardner, 1998a, p. 21). In other words, no one kind of intelligence is better than another kind of intelligence.  Each of his eight intelligences has its own and particular sphere of expertise.  They "are to a significant extent independent of one another" (Chen and Gardner, 1997, 107).

Straight-A students demonstrate a high degree of linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, that 'g' intelligence supposedly measured predominantly by IQ tests.  Here, intelligence is deemed to be a fixed, genetically determined cognitive characteristic, which can be measured early on in life and will (supposedly) determine an individual's overall intellectual potential (Gottfredson, 1996, 1997, 1998).  That viewpoint, in the main, is inaccurate.  If "individuals have distinctly different kinds of minds" (Gardner, 1999, 45), then it is inappropriate to measure all humans as if their minds were simply variations along a single bell curve (see Herrnstein and Murray, 1994).  Thus all ought to pay particular attention to what is special within their own minds as well as within the many kinds of minds of others over whom they have, in this case, career accountability.

The Intelligences

Here are Gardner's eight (8) intelligences: linguistic-verbal (a language based competence requiring superior listening, speaking, reading and writing skills), logical-mathematical (dealing with abstract concepts, patterns, and symbols required for deriving scientific proofs), visual-spatial (utilization of mental imagery for discerning orientation in space), bodily-kinaesthetic (using physical body movements to express emotion), musical (recognizing tonal and rhythmic patterns and creating harmony), interpersonal (the ability to read the moods, motivations and mental states of others), intrapersonal-introspective (an ability to access one's own feelings and to draw on such feelings to guide one's behavior) and naturalist-environmental (recognition and categorization of natural objects) (Gardner, 1998a; Morris and Dionne, 1993a, 1993b; Morris and LeBlanc, 1996).  How Branton Shearer's MIDAS instrument was developed to self-profile these intelligences is now discussed.

The MIDAS Scales

While Gardner's MI model has been welcomed and practiced by many within the educational arena, wider acceptance and use has been limited by the lack of a practical, reliable and valid method of assessment.  Dr. Charles Branton Shearer's MIDAS represents one such method.  The MIDAS provides an objective measure of the multiple intelligences as reported of a person by the person or by a knowledgeable informant (Shearer, 1991).  Whereas IQ tests serve to mark the limits of one's 'g', the MIDAS scales, on the other hand, strive to describe the course and direction of intellectual growth and achievement potential for each of the Gardner domains (Shearer, 1996a, 1996b).  In short, the MIDAS provides an effective method of obtaining a self descriptive profile of ones 'multiple intelligences.'

MIDAS Questionnaire

MIDAS is a self report measure of intellectual disposition; it may be completed by either the user (Shearer, 1998a, 1998b, 1998c) or, in the case of a young child, by her/his parent (Shearer, 1998d).  It takes about 35 minutes to complete the 119 multiple-choice questions that cover eight areas of abilities, interests, skills and activities.  Users are asked to read each item and select what they perceive as the best answer at that point in time in their life.  It is so important that the responses are realistic.  As the MIDAS is not a test, there are no time limits and as all humans differ so markedly, there are no right or wrong responses.  Users are not compelled to answer or guess at every question, as each item has an "I don't know" or "Does not apply" choice.  Users are asked to select this answer whenever it best fits.

Numerous studies of its reliability and validity (Shearer, 1991, 1997a, 1997c; Shearer and Jones, 1994; Way and Shearer, 1990) have indicated that the MIDAS scales can provide a reasonable estimate of one's MI strengths and limitations that correspond with external rating and criteria.  The MIDAS scales have been translated into Spanish and Korean and completed by approximately 10,000 people world-wide.  The next section discusses how the MIDAS tools can be used within the career development field.

The MIDAS as a Career Development Tool

The MIDAS for Adults version has been included in the curriculum of college career exploration classes for four years and has been found to increase student's self awareness to assist in career making and major selection (Shearer, 1997c, 1998e).  Various private and public schools from Vancouver, British Columbia to Monterrey, Mexico and from Portland, Oregon to Cambridge, Massachusetts are currently using the MIDAS to build an appreciation for the educational applications of MI Theory.  The MIDAS is also being used extensively in teacher training, including the preparation of new teachers in university training programs (Shearer, 1997b, 1998e).   For example, the MIDAS is being used as a teacher training tool at the University of Calgary and at the University of Manitoba.  Many American universities, including Harvard and Kent State University are also using the MIDAS as a preparation tool with novice teachers.

MIDAS Profile

A MIDAS Profile is unique not only for its multiple intelligence scales but also for its assessment method and philosophy of personalized education.  The MIDAS strives to provide realistic data for making informed choices, but it does so from the person's perspective via careful questioning.  Following tabulation of the responses, results are offered back to the person not as hard and unchanging truths but instead as useful hypotheses for appraisal, elaboration, and action planning.  Information gleaned from a MIDAS Profile can also be used to formulate a personalized career plan by recognizing, valuing, and focusing attention on areas of cognitive strength and intellectual potential.

A three-paged MIDAS Profile provides detailed information in three broad categories.  Page 1 gives a reasonable estimate of the person's intellectual disposition in each of the eight intelligences.  Page 1 also outlines three research scales that estimate the users proclivity for Innovation, General Logic, and Leadership.  Page 2 describes particular intellectual activities and actual outcomes.  The final page highlights 26 types of sub skills (e.g., Appreciation, Instrument, Vocal and Composer for the Musical intelligence).  From these three pages, an additional Brief Learning Summary (BLS) outline can also be generated.  The BLS outline well summarizes what one can actually do and how good s/he is in the different intellectual activities.

Summary

MI Theory, first formalized and introduced nineteen years ago by Howard Earl Gardner, continues to open the minds of educators, psychologists and career developers world-wide as to how learning and training can be upgraded so that all individuals may be better guided as they strive to achieve their maximum intellectual potential. Gardner's definition challenges the one-dimensional view of only measuring linguistic and logical-mathematical capabilities ... cognitive competencies upon which the IQ test was initially founded. It is this narrow understanding of intelligence that assumes that one's ability to learn and do things comes out of a fixed cognitive capacity (Siegel-Itzkovich, 1998, p. 1).

Gardner has spent the past quarter century postulating that our minds are pluralistic and organized in a multi-dimensional fashion. Perhaps more importantly, he has attempted to convince us that our many knowledge stores are domain-specific and arranged "vertically" as eight (or possibly more) independent content faculties rather than "horizontally" as a single and "central processing unit" for analyzing psychological constructs such as perception, memory, or attention.

From Gardner's view about cognitive functioning, we now know that we possess a much broader set of intellectual skills than traditionally assumed by mainstream psychological thinking. Today's workers are not simply learners constrained by one general IQ-type intelligence or one general problem solving ability.  Instead, they ought now to be perceived as beings capable of uneven cognitive achievements in eight relatively self-contained domain specific intelligences (Morris, 1991abc, 1992abc, 1993abc, 1994ab, 1995, 1996, 1997abcdef, 1998ab, 1999abc, 2000ab, 2001; Morris & Dionne, 1993ab; Morris & Leblanc, 1996).

Note

1This commentary was initially written following a workshop of the 1999 National Consultation on Career Development (NATCON), the largest international bilingual conference addressing career development and employment-related issues.  Since 1987, NATCON has been sponsored by The Counselling Foundation of Canada, Human Resources Development Canada, and the Career Centre, University of Toronto.

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This page was last revised by Clifford Morris on Monday, 25 July, 2011