How relevant would you be as a professional in 2020? How do you really know that you are building what it takes to succeed in the future? Howard Gardner, leading thinker of our times and teacher at Harvard says, you need to develop “Five Minds for the Future” in a book with the same title. He should know because he has been working on how the mind works, its complexity, the concept of intelligence and the multiplicity of intelligence for many decades now. I believe his work will impact organisations of the future the same say Juran and Deming impacted the manufacturing economy with their understanding and framework for Total Quality Management. I also believe that Gardner has special relevance to India because India’s doom and deliverance can both be triggered by its large population. The Indian educational system and the way organisations look at human resource development, fall far short of what it would take to create the professional of the future. According to Gardner, the future would belong to those who develop five minds: the mind of discipline, synthesis, creativity, respectfulness and ethics. Let me explain what he means by each of these.
First and foremost, the professional of the future must master a basic discipline. Those who do not solidly stand for one would have to take instructions from others. They are very unlikely to lead others. Empirically speaking, mastering any discipline takes ten years. This is a sobering fact for a country that churns out doctors and engineers and plumbers like a factory and individuals believe that a professional qualification is all you need to become a professional. A decade of dedicated practice in a discipline alone makes someone a complete professional and there is no short cut to it.
While the future would need us to build the mind of discipline, the fact is that all complex problems, in whatever field we can think of, would necessarily require multi-disciplinary approaches to resolve. My favorite role play is one in which I ask groups to imagine that a hijacked airliner is going to land in 30 minutes and participants must have a game plan to handle the situation immediately. It takes no time at all for people to realise that from something as dramatic as a plane hijack to more routine organisational issues — from a heart surgery in a hospital, cracking a crime or a design of a new product — each one requires a multi-disciplinary view of things. That is where, in addition to mastering a core discipline, one has to develop the mind of synthesis. Major decisions would require inter-disciplinary thinking and great synthesizing capability.
The third mind for the future is the creative mind. Experiments done by Gardner and others indicate that all human beings are creative as children, the capacity peaks in five-year-olds and in most of these children, wanes by the time they are in their 20s. For example, give a five-year-old a pencil. Moments later, the child converts it into an imaginary airplane and can fly it for hours. This capacity to see one thing and conceptualise it as something it is not, is what visionary leadership and breakthrough innovation is all about. Where the world sees a computer, Steve Jobs sees an iPod. Where telecom companies saw switches and instruments, John Chambers simply saw software and the Net.
The fourth of the five minds is the respectful mind. It is amazing we do not know enough about this one professional characteristic — our engineering and MBA curriculum do not talk about it. How basic does it get? A little while ago, we saw that the professional of the future would need to master a given discipline and at the same time, all complex problems and their solutions are inter-disciplinary in nature. That means solutions would need many experts to come together and collaborate. Now that is the precise point. Bring in five experts from five fields and you will get differing views and as they argue and fall apart, the world moves on. Hence, true professionals must learn how to develop a respectful mind so that other experts collaborate with them.
Finally, Gardener talks about developing the ethical mind. For a professional worth the name, ethics is finally about the capability to self-certify the completeness of a given assignment. In a post-colonial culture in India, we only work under supervision. That cannot any longer be the case; a true professional must be able to deliver products and services that are complete in all respects without the need for scrutiny and oversight.
The author is the co-founder of MindTree where he currently works as Gardener