In a ruthless, globally competitive market, companies cannot afford the luxury of holding onto more employees than they need. With economic constraints and technological advances, some jobs are being eliminated completely — a trend that will surely continue.
A new generation of sophisticated information and communication technologies, together with new forms of business reorganization and management, is wiping out full-time employment for millions of blue- and white-collar workers.
What does this mean? There is work, but it’s not the same as it used to be. There are jobs, but not the same ones offered a few years ago. And unless you want to go after menial work, you’ll need to acquire a disciplined education and variety of experiences, while also developing a highly valued mind.
OUR MIND(S) MATTER
In Five Minds for the Future (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), noted psychologist Howard Gardner says our mind — actually, minds — matters. We achieve greater professional success by learning how to think and learn in new ways.
Gardner believes five different kinds of minds are critical to remaining a highly prized asset in your organization, especially in times of economic cutbacks:
1 – THE DISCIPLINED MIND
The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking — a mode of cognition that belongs to a specific scholarly discipline, craft or profession. Lawyers think like lawyers, engineers like engineers, managers like managers.
Start by figuring out the central concepts of the discipline you wish to master. The field you choose has key foundational concepts, methods and procedures.
You need to develop many “entry points” into your discipline. Those who have mastered a subject can think about it in many ways: storytelling, debate, graphics, humor, drama or classic exposition. If you communicate your expertise in only one medium, then you don’t really know your subject.
The end goal is to “perform your understanding.” This isn’t mere recitation of known case studies or performance of standard experiments. You must use your knowledge to attack problems you’ve never seen. You then need expert feedback to determine how well you fared.
2 – THE SYNTHESIZING MIND
The synthesizing mind is adept at selecting crucial information from the copious amounts available, across disciplines.
You must recognize important new information and skills and then incorporate them into your knowledge base and professional repertoire.
You must discern what merits your attention and what to ignore, organizing this information in ways that make sense to yourself and others.
3 – THE CREATING MIND
Human creativity is at a premium. Businesses want employees who can develop a “new vision” and “extend existing product categories,” on top of completing their daily work.
Creative thinkers are no longer deemed exceptional; they’re the expected newhire. Work by psychologists like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi show that creativity is not a lone endeavor, but three elements that interact to foster lasting breakthroughs:
- An individual must master a discipline or area and constantly work at it.
- Creativity requires a “cultural domain” that provides models, rules and norms to work with or against.
- The creative individual needs opportunities to perform.
The key ingredient is a creative temperament (which need not be innate). Creative people are dissatisfied with their own work and that of others. They go against the grain; it may be painful, but the alternative is even more excruciating. They notice anomalies and try to explain them, rather than explain them away.
Generally, creative people are tough, tenacious and undeterred by hard work or failures. Even when they do succeed, they look over the horizon to find the next mountain to climb.
4 – THE RESPECTFUL MIND
The respectful mind responds sympathetically and constructively to differences among individuals and groups. Those with respectful minds work beyond mere tolerance and political correctness; they develop the capacity for forgiveness.
Human beings naturally band into groups—and as soon as such groups form, members start to dislike one another. This pattern appears repeatedly in humans and other primates, for that matter.
To succeed, you must cultivate respect for others. Teaching respectfulness in school is certainly a promising means of fostering tolerance, and many schools put it into practice by requiring students of various backgrounds to work on joint projects with shared goals. With this kind of foundation, students can continue to cultivate tolerance and respect when they graduate to the workplace and political realm.
5 – THE ETHICAL MIND
Ethically minded individuals strive for good work and ethical balance in micro to global environments.
Four tools, while not sufficient for good work, are probably necessary:
- A mission. Without a mission, you don’t know what you’re aiming to achieve. Try to develop a clear, actionable mission statement that embodies your values.
- One or more good models. Without models, doing the ethical thing is much harder.
- An individual version of the “mirror test.” Look into the mirror and ask yourself if you like what you see. Do you approve of what you’re doing at work? It’s easy to deceive yourself, so get confirmation from people you respect.
- A professional version of the mirror test. Look into the mirror and see if your colleagues are living up to their professional obligations. If not, what can you do to improve the ethical fiber of your profession?
THE FUTURE IS NOW
In reality, many individuals in positions of influence are deficient in one or more of the five kinds of minds discussed here.
Shrewd managers or leaders select people who already possess these minds. They then challenge their employees to maintain, sharpen and catalyze their capacities so teams can work together effectively and serve as role models for future recruits.
The critical questions to ask yourself are:
- With which of these minds do I already show strength?
- How can I improve my mental capabilities?
- Where can I stretch my abilities to enable growth?
- Which of these minds do I need to learn?
- Who in my organization can help mentor me?