Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reflections and Interests: Five Minds of My Own

I have always been a great admirer of Howard Gardner's work, and therefore, my views of the abilities required for the future is indeed informed by his formulation of the Five Minds - the Disciplined Mind, the Synthesising Mind, the Creative Mind, the Respectful Mind and the Ethical Mind. To put it simply, these are the five cognitive abilities and/or ways of being Professor Gardner thinks are necessary for a professional of the future. It is quite a departure from the 3 Rs, Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic, that I grew up with, and like many of Professor Gardner's other work, this indeed seems intuitively correct.

However, while thinking about these Five Minds, it is perhaps important for me to think what these means for me, and how I shall further develop these abilities and skills. And, only as I do so, I can start translating some of these ideas into my practise - develop five minded professionals through my various educational projects. 

Disciplined Mind

I have a wide range of interests, literature, arts, photography, politics, technology, but I think in a certain way which point to my 'discipline': When confronted with a new situation, I instinctively start looking for the historical reason, more specifically for economic incentives for the principal actors in the context. This might have developed over many years of reading and discussing economic history, and my quest to understand the historical origins why things turned out the way it did. This is the sign of a discipline, that I shall think in these terms without needing to be told to do so. Even when I studied Adult Learning and had to write a dissertation, I chose to write, among many possible contending topics demanding my attention, and perhaps to my supervisor's annoyance, a history of For-Profit Higher Education, exploring the incentives of the major players, entrepreneurs, students, regulators, and why things turned out the way it turned out. 

I have also spent many years in Adult Vocational Education, spending over 15 years setting up operations and businesses, designing curriculum and engaging with policy makers. This is perhaps another discipline I have developed along the way, an intuitive understanding and reflexes suited for this field. The best evidence of it comes when I am forced to think about new ideas of business - I shall always come up with educational ones - or when I think of a profession, and I can't think of anything outside the educational domain. Even the extreme challenges of a bootstrap life in an adopted country can't change that.

Finally, I have always written things since my childhood, trying to understand, nurture and critique the efficacy of written language. This blog, which is now running for 9 years and have more than 1200 postings on it, is my attempt to develop my writing. This is my attempt to develop a discipline, an ability, and when I started, I had a ten year perspective in mind. I am still at it, and when I read some older posts, I know my writing has indeed improved through practise. This is possibly the third discipline that I have developed over my lifetime.

Synthesising Mind

I have been told that I am analytical and can look at problems in a logical way. However, I would tend to think that my primary style is synthesis, and not analysis. The principal ability that served me well in my business as well as academic pursuits is my ability to draw information from disparate sources, in some cases from unexpected ones, and see a pattern of logic. I shall ascribe it to my historical bent of mind, rather than anything that I consciously developed: I am almost always thinking in parallels, experiences, theories that may not seem congruous at the first instance. For example, I shall argue in my dissertation about For-Profit Education is that the current tone of debate about the universities - that this is not about equipping the populace with useful skills but creating knowledge and nurturing communities - is Teleological, Aristotelian in construct, an idea that came to me while attending Professor Michael Sandel's MOOC on Justice. Over time, I could develop a consistent position bringing together the discussions of Aristotelian ethics and contemporary politics of Higher Education: This is more evidence of a synthesising practise than an analytical one.

On similar vein, my first attempt to do a book length work that I am into now is more an act of synthesis than anything else. I am producing the essays on the broad theme of The Consumer University, exploring the relationships between the institution, the society and the learners and how it evolved over time and in different countries. As usual, this is more a work of historical narrative than economic analysis of the type most of my close associates are engaged in, and my idea is to synthesise the ideas of moral philosophy, sociology, economic rationale and contemporary business thinking to produce a narrative of the changing 'business' of the university. What's notable is that I have taken a synthesising position without even being conscious of it in the first place.

Creative Mind

Creativity has been one of my problems, as I did not fit into rigid structures most of the time. This led to my eschewing the conventional career paths, which I found too restrictive. I loved small teams, independence and ability to craft strategies of my own: Whenever I have allowed to do so, I have usually excelled. One of the best times in my career was when I took charge of my employer's country operations in a small country, seemingly under the radar of the Head Office because it was so small. While my employer, a large IT Training company, usually ran its international business in the usual manner, in a combination of predatory sales and hard-knuckled negotiation usual in International Franchising, I took the opportunity in transforming this ignored country operations with new partnerships in large scale corporate social responsibility projects and socially committed partners. In a short span of a year, we got not just to the Number 1 position in that country's market, but the best performing country operation in all of the International Business of my employer. This, indeed, brought me the corporate attention, and soon I was resisting pressures for more predatory sales and dumping of unusable material in that poor country: I left.

My creativity, however, is not the usual advertised kind. I am not the one for outrageous acts: I don't wear colourful clothing, don't smoke or drink and try to live a quiet and boring life, allowing myself as much time for reflection and thinking. I have, however, been pursuing conversations and friendships across the world, developing ideas, projects and initiatives of various kinds, which are all designed to question the conventional. While my creativity has so far not been rewarding for me, like the other two attributes above, I can't actually think in any other way. Yes, there are days when I feel frustrated with the broken state of my finances and start the day with the thought that I must become one of those corporate types, but this does not last very long. Hard as this life may be, I have come to accept that there is no other mode available for me.

Respectful Mind

I have been exposed to diversity to an extraordinary degree, working with people from all over the world. My friends come from all the different religions, nationalities and political persuasion. Despite moving to Britain and sincere efforts to understand and adopt this country's cultural norms, starting with sarcasm and time keeping, I have made efforts to remain Indian. And, as I came across other cultures and ideas, I have come to realise that no stereotype, however intuitive, is good enough. Indeed, I had my share of dreadful acquaintances, starting with straightforward racist ones (some refused to sit next to me at company meetings) and even the Fundamentalist types (who will not attend meetings where Alcohol is present, even if its not served); yet I felt most uncomfortable with the unreasonable types, who will regularly turn up at this blog lecturing me about selling my soul to some sort of imperialists just because I didn't agree with them. I have tried to maintain a respectful conversation throughout and I can show evidence of that on my post of Lord Macaulay, where I was subject to all kinds of abuse.

Ethical Mind

Over time, and indeed this is an ongoing endeavour, I have developed a sense of ethic. This is tricky because my sense of ethic may not correspond to the textbook norms - indeed I find the middle class morality quite claustrophobic - but I shall claim that this was defined by two rules that I follow throughout. 

The first is that I don't ever use another human being for my own ends. Indeed, this is a Kantian position, but this is also somewhat Indian. Therefore, I shall meet people even when there is no apparent interest for me to do so. I shall keep in touch with people even when the immediate reason for it is extinct. I shall introduce people to people without asking for a reward for myself. This is not something I was born with, but developed over a period of time. I believe despite my many transgressions - am I always truthful - this minimum ethic ensures that none of my relationships are really manipulative. Indeed, there are people who think I am quite naive and intend to use me: My position in those situations is usually to remain consistent with my own position rather than playing their game, and even if they secure an advantage, I still win.

The second position is an essentially Indian, Hindu, one, and that is about feeling indebted. While I seek to maintain independence and individual initiative, I am conscious of the fact that I can't do anything without the love, support and encouragement from people around me. In my conception, this is not about family or a few loved ones, which will be the usual Western position, but rather the wide world, as Vedas will have it, including those not present, my ancestors, God, Nature, everyone. I am not pious - as I said, my position on most issues will be antithetical - but I believe my morality stems from acknowledging that I am not alone in the universe and my existence is crucially dependent on everything else. I am sure Professor Gardner did not expect me to take up such a huge burden, but this is where I am trying to mix my Indianness with my global life: I am still an individual empowered agent making my own decisions, but this does not come at the cost of reneging my responsibility and commitment to others.

As I mentioned, my ethical mind is a work in progress and I may fail ethical tests in most cases. I am non-vegetarian, and given my parlous state of finances, I don't donate much money to charities. I may have other ethical slips at work - all the delayed assessment marking could be construed as a serious ethical lapse - and I shall be one for gay marriages, revolutions in some countries, and open relationships. My ethical mind is based on these two, rather minimal, commitments, but I have developed a reflex based on them. So, like the other abilities, these are now my default positions and I can't think of anything else. In those unfortunate days when I try to think of myself as the Master of the Universe, that everything is meant to support me and I have no obligation in return, I don't do very well.

So, this, in summary, is an update on my five minds: I believe the abilities fit for the future, though it may mean some struggles in the present. Indeed, in some cases, I am outside Professor Gardner's brief, but so will be anyone trying to construct an authentic description of self.

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