Changing Minds

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Changing Minds

by Howard Gardner

Harvard Business ©2004, 244 pages, $26.95 (ISBN # 1-57851-709-5).

The Art and Science of Changing People’s Minds

Whether one is a leader trying to keep a work force from resisting a significant change or a manager trying to convince a colleague to approach a task in a new way, or even a salesperson trying to convince consumers to change brands, changing the minds of others is an important process in the world of business. How can someone’s opinion, rooted in years of personal experiences and learning, be changed? In Changing Minds, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a leading expert on cognitive theory, offers a framework for understanding exactly what happens during the process of changing a mind, and shows how you can influence that process. He shows how we change our minds gradually, in identifiable ways that can be actively and powerfully influenced.

Conscious Changes

Gardner’s research and insights in Changing Minds focus on situations in which a person abandons the way he or she thought of an important issue, and now thinks of that issue in a dramatically new way. Gardner writes about changes that are made consciously, as a result of identifiable forces (rather than as a result of manipulation), and also focuses on changes of mind that result in a behavior change.

According to Gardner, to change someone’s mind, you must produce a shift in that person’s “mental representations” — the particular ways in which that person perceives, codes, retains and accesses information.

The Seven Levers

Throughout Changing Minds, Gardner describes seven factors — or levers — that can be used by anyone to successfully change a mind:

• Reason. A rational approach involves identifying relevant factors, weighing each in turn, and making an overall assessment. Reason can involve sheer logic, the use of analogies, or the creation of taxonomies.

• Research. Complementing the use of argument is the collection of relevant data. The research only needs to entail the identification of relevant cases and a judgment about whether they warrant a change of mind.

• Resonance. An idea resonates to the extent that it feels right to an individual, seems to fit the current situation, and convinces the person that further considerations are unnecessary.

Gardner also points out that rhetoric is a principal vehicle for changing minds. Rhetoric, he explains, works best when it encompasses tight logic, draws on relevant research, and resonates with an audience.

• Representational Redescriptions. A change of mind becomes convincing to the extent that it lends itself to representation in a number of different forms, with these forms reinforcing one another.

• Resources and Rewards. Sometimes mind change is more likely to occur when considerable resources can be drawn on. Although positive reinforcement means an individual is being rewarded for one course of behavior and thought rather than the other, unless the new course of thought is in harmony with other criteria, Gardner writes, it is unlikely to last after resources run out.

• Real World Events. An event might occur in the broader society that affects many individuals, not just those who are contemplating a mind change. These include wars, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, or economic depressions.

• Resistances. Not all factors help a mind change. Any effort to understand the changing of minds must take into account the power of various resistances that inhibit a mind change.

The Six Arenas

Changing Minds examines in detail how the seven levers are used in the six realms — or arenas — in which changes of mind take place. The six arenas he describes are:

1. Large-scale changes involving heterogeneous or diverse groups, such as a nation’s population.

2. Large-scale changes involving a more homogenous or uniform group, such as a corporation or a university.

3. Changes brought about through works of art, science or scholarship, such as the writings of Freud, the theories of Darwin, or the artistic creations of Picasso.

4. Changes within formal instructional settings, such as schools or training seminars.

5. Intimate forms of mind changing involving two people or a small number of people, such as family members.

6. Changes within one’s own mind. ~

Why We Like This Book

Changing Minds offers an astute perspective on the issue of influence over others and over oneself. Not only are Gardner’s insights into this fascinating topic enlightening and compelling, Changing Minds is also written in understandable terms and an easy-to-comprehend style. Full of relevant case studies and intriguing stories from modern history as well as Gardner’s own personal life, Changing Minds reveals useful tips and tactics that can help anyone understand the cognitive functions of the mind, and use those strategies in negotiations and situations where changes of mind are beneficial. ~

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