Beyond Wit and Grit: Rethinking the Keys to Success by Howard Gardner at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

What does it take to be successful? If you’d asked me that question years ago, I would’ve had a simple answer. I would have said, “You’ve got to be smart and work hard.” Putting it a bit more crisply, you need to have wit, that means being intelligent. Here’s a man with a lot of wit, Albert Einstein And you need to have grit You need to work hard and persevere. Like an athlete, like this high jumper.

Of course, this old view of believing in wit and grit is something that I have been thinking about for a long time, and today I am going to trace the evolution of my thinking. Here is an example of a young man who we hope has wit and grit, otherwise he won’t do well in his test. Here is a somewhat older group. We really hope they have wit and grit, because this is the Situation Room in the White House and they have to make some pretty tough decisions. So we hope that they’ll have wit and grit as well.

Today I’m going to review research that I have done as a psychologist over the last 40 years or so. And I have really changed my mind about the importance of wit and grit. That is the story that I will be talking about. This is how I looked a few years ago, when I started my work. And at that time, I was a prototypical believer that intelligence was a single thing, with a single computer in our mind-brain.

If it worked well, we would be smart in everything. If it was sluggish, too bad, we would not be able to do anything at all. And of course, what I believed in at the time was the IQ test. Probably everybody here has had an IQ test. The IQ test purportedly tells you how smart you are.

Unfortunately, if it tells you you’re not smart, you are in big trouble because you think you are not smart. And that’s not a good idea to walk around with for the rest of your life. What I did in my research is I worked with young kids, kids of different ages, different talents, different backgrounds. Watched them do all sorts of things, and I discovered that if a child was good in one thing, it didn’t necessarily mean that he or she would be good in other things. More dramatically, I worked with brain-damaged patients, individuals who had the misfortune of having a stroke, or some other kind of brain lesion.

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The single most important thing about brain damage is where it occurs. Is it the left side or the right side of your brain? Is it anterior or posterior? And as you may know, the location of the lesion tells you what abilities are knocked out and which ones are spared. And you could have two patients who have absolutely opposite profiles: one being strong in the very area the other one is weak in. This led me, in the early 1980s, the study of human development in different cultures, and the study of the brain and its very specialized regions. This led me to write a book called “Frames of Mind.” Subtitled: “Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” often shortened as “MI Theory.” And this is the work for which I’m still best known. And it was a big book, about 400 pages, but the nice thing about a big book is you can give a very short summary especially if it’s, a TED talk, and the claim of the book is that rather than having a single computer, we all have at least seven or eight different computers. And one computer can work well in one person, another computer can work well in another person. And that’s why we need to think about Multiple Intelligences.

So, let me introduce you to the computers with some photographs. Linguistic intelligence is the intelligence of a poet like Emily Dickinson or Edgar Allan Poe, or a journalist, a CNN journalist. Second intelligence is logical-mathematical: the intelligence of a scientist or a computer programmer. If you do well in language and logic, you will do well in school. And as long as you stay in school, you’ll think you are smart.

If you ever walk out on the highway or let alone the forest or the jungle, you’ll discover the other intelligences are important too. Musical intelligence is one, the intelligence of the conductor, or of a great performer like Yo-Yo Ma. On the left you can see him as a young prodigy, and on the right the Yo-Yo of today whom we all venerate. Fourth kind of intelligence is spatial: the ability to deal with local space, like a chess player, or much broader space the way a sailor or navigator would. Fifth kind of intelligence is bodily kinesthetic: the kind of intelligence of an athlete who uses his whole body or a craft person who is working with wood, or metal, or some other kind of material.

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Sixth intelligence is interpersonal intelligence: understanding other people. Martin Luther King Jr understood a lot about how to motivate other people. He had interpersonal intelligence. The somewhat mundane level is a sales person who is trying to convince you to get a car you don’t want, for a price you don’t want to pay but that’s interpersonal intelligence as well.

Seventh intelligence is intrapersonal intelligence: understanding yourself. A meditator may have intrapersonal intelligence. If you go through psychoanalysis, the goal is to have more understanding of yourself. I recently added as eighth intelligence the naturalist intelligence. It’s the intelligence that permits people to make distinctions in nature between one plant and another, or to communicate with an animal.

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