The crazy walls of Nobel Laureate, John Nash and the iconic Sherlock Holmes give us a faint glimpse into the amazing complexity and potential of their “beautiful minds.” From the Freudian slip and superego to Jung’s collective consciousness, Laing’s inferiority complex and Frankl’s indomitable spirit, many have attempted to describe how the human mind works and why it sometimes doesn’t. With mental disease persisting as a vexing issue throughout history, many have strained hard and long to pry open this black box which is the human mind and take an intelligible peek inside.
In his 1983 book “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” Gardner proposed a variety of intelligences, rather than the simple cognitive model: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. He later suggested that existential and moral intelligence may also be worthy of inclusion.
For decades, within business and academia, much stock has been placed in just one of these – our cognitive abilities or Intelligence Quotient. This measure of a person’s cognitive skills and understanding has been the only form of intelligence that practitioners have managed to define and assess, so it has become the default for relative measurement. What we have found though, is that it is not enough to be smart; street smarts or savvy make a real difference in business and life. In his great book, “Working with Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman argues that Emotional Intelligence has an equally, if not more powerful effect on career success as IQ. In fact, according to the University Consulting Alliance, 67 percent of all abilities associated with strong job performance were related to emotional intelligence. Many other studies corroborate this type of finding.
IQ is like the tip of the “Mind Iceberg;” the bit that bobs up over the surface and demands attention. Don’t get me wrong, our cognitive faculties are necessary, but they’re not sufficient. They are amazing and yet, barely understood. How much less then, is the subconscious truly understood, when compared to the cognitive part of the mind. Deciphering the workings of the subconscious is, in my view, like squinting at a weak light through coke-bottle glasses smeared with Vaseline. We struggle to adequately understand cognition – the part of the human mind that is exposed to assessment. How then can we hope to plumb the depths of understanding of the subconscious? It’s possibly as difficult as looking inside a black hole.
In his book, “Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less,” psychologist, Guy Claxton makes a compelling argument that the mind works best when we trust our unconscious, or “undermind.” We have long assumed that the quick-thinking “hare brain” will beat the slower intuition of the “tortoise mind.” However, research in cognitive science is changing this understanding of the human mind. Claxton encourages us to be less analytical and let our creativity have free rein. He also argues for re-evaluation of society’s obsession with results-oriented thinking and problem-solving under pressure.
Another interesting, left-field read is the “Eureka Effect” by David Perkins. In this book, Perkins examines the art and logic of breakthrough thinking, based on the story of Archimedes’ discovery of the principle of water displacement. “Eureka” cried the Greek genius as he ran from his bath. The text draws on an analogy of searching for gold in the Klondike and the counter-intuitive decisions that a prospector needs to make in order to find the motherlode. Things aren’t always what they seem and sometimes you just can’t use logic and reason to get you out of a pickle. I’d like to explore this Eureka Effect model further in another article, but back to our study of the mind for now.
Throughout my career I’ve noticed that far too much time and effort has been spent by academia and business trying to deconstruct and analyse the mind and come up with simplistic models. Although they have their place, enough already with Myers Briggs profiling, EST, NLP and the like. I’d like to advocate for an end to the paranoid obsession with trying to “work out” how to manipulate and motivate individuals, the workforce or the public at large. Pretending to be wise, business, academic and political elites have treated humanity as a slightly more evolved species than monkeys and tried to bribe their allegiance with bananas, bright lights and circus music. Communications departments and media feed the public their ideologically-charged opinions masquerading as truth; they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Give people the truth I say, allow them to make informed decisions and let them go.
I’d like to end with the following advice. It’s based on an axiom I first heard in the 1980’s as a young apprentice electrician: “If we don’t have time to do it right the first time, how come we always have the time to do it again?” Let’s not always be in such a hurry. It’s good to be decisive, but time and space must also be made for unstructured thinking, especially if people are dealing with ambiguity, paradox or intractable problems. Problems have often been percolating for many years. Why begrudge people an investment of time to absorb information then sleep on it, allowing their subconscious minds to do their amazing work. Sometimes patience and messiness, rather than rigor and certainty, are the essential precursors of wisdom. Stop treating the mind as simply an organic computer and give it the respect it deserves. It is indeed a thing of wonder and beauty!