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Realising The Full Potential of Talent – Part 2

In the first instalment of this article (read it here), the reader was introduced to the stories of the Flight of Icarus, Norbulingka of Dharamsala, Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect and Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind. We learned how :

  1. Over use of emotion without rational thinking brings about disastrous outcomes
  2. Discipline, process and rules integrated with creativity is spirituality in action, with powerful results
  3. The intersection of the domains of the right brain and of the left brain hold great potential for business and for society
  4. The present age, the Conceptual age, calls for the employment of the whole mind through six elements: Design, Storytelling, Synergy, Empathy, Playfulness, and Meaning

In this instalment, I underscore the usefulness of Multiple intelligences (and its linkage to the whole brain) and accentuate the contribution of some Leaders who have made the world a better place. Finally, I shall draw the value of these stories to Talent Managers today.

Not just one Intelligence

We know the theory of multiple intelligences was developed by Harvard professor Howard Gardner in the early 1980s (Gardner, 1983). Gardner contends that traditional ideas about intelligence employed in educational and psychological circles for almost a hundred years require significant reform. More specifically, he declares that the concept of a “pure“ intelligence that can be measured by a single IQ score is seriously flawed. Instead, Gardner points out that intelligence isn’t a singular phenomenon, but rather a plurality of capacities. Drawing on his own experiments and those of other scholars from several varied disciplines such as anthropology, developmental psychology, animal physiology, brain research, cognitive science, and biographies of exceptional individuals, Gardner inferred that there were at least seven different types of intelligences that everyone seems to possess to varying degrees.
These intelligences are as follows:

  1. Linguistic Intelligence.The understanding of the phonology, syntax, and semantics of language, and its pragmatic uses to convince others of a course of action, help one to remember information, explain or communicate knowledge, or reflect upon language itself. Examples include the storyteller, orator, poet, editor, and novelist.
  2. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence.The ability to leverage one’s bodily motions and the capacity to handle objects skilfully. Examples of those proficient in this intelligence include the actor, mime, craftsperson, athlete, dancer, and sculptor.
  3. Spatial Intelligence.The ability to perceive the visual world accurately, to perform transformations and modifications upon one’s initial perceptions, and to be able to re-create aspects of one’s visual experience. Examples include the architect, mapmaker, surveyor, inventor, and graphic artist.
  4. Musical Intelligence.The ability to understand and express components of music, including melodic and rhythmic patterns, through figural or intuitive means (the natural musician) or through formal analytic means (the professional musician). Examples include the composer, pianist, percussionist, music critic, and singer.
  5. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence.The understanding and use of logical structures, including patterns and relationships,  of statements and propositions, through experimentation, quantification, conceptualization, and classification. Examples include the scientist, mathematician, logician, computer programmer, and statistician.
  6. Intrapersonal Intelligence.The ability to access one’s own emotional life through awareness of inner moods, intentions, motivations, potentials, temperaments, and desires, and the capacity to symbolize these inner experiences, and to apply these understandings to help one live one’s life. Examples include the psychotherapist, entrepreneur, creative artist, and shaman.
  7. Interpersonal Intelligence.The ability to notice and make distinctions among other individuals with respect to moods, temperaments, motivations, intentions, and to use this information in pragmatic ways, such as to persuade, influence, manipulate, mediate, or counsel individuals or groups of individuals toward some purpose. Examples include the union organizer, teacher, therapist, administrator, and political leader.
  8. Naturalist Intelligence.The capacity to recognize and classify the numerous species of flora and fauna in one’s environment (as well as natural phenomena such as mountains and clouds), and the ability to care for, tame, or interact subtly with living creatures, or with whole ecosystems. Examples include the zoologist, biologist, veterinarian, forest ranger, and hunter.
  9. Existential Intelligence: Sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here.

Example of Application of multiple intelligences:
Studies show that there is a deep link between usage of multiple intelligences and tapping both sides of the brain.  Thomas Armstrong, in the book Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing throws light on this subject. In the books he shares – “Studies suggest, for example, that the right hemisphere is activated when subjects read words that are anxiety-provoking or emotionally charged (Van Strien, Stolk, & Zuiker, 1995). The right hemisphere also appears to be involved in semantic decisions during the reading and writing process, especially when the reader is in the initial stages of deciding among a range of possible words (Coney & Evans, 2000). In addition, the right hemisphere appears to take information that has been initially processed by the left hemisphere and use it in the course of comprehending text (Coney, 1998). There are also sub cortical structures involved in the process of reading, including the cerebellum, which has been previously linked to bodily-kinesthetic functions, and also areas of the limbic system that become activated while experiencing emotions during the process of reading (Fulbright et al., 1999; Simpson, Snyder, Gusnard, & Raichle, 2001). Unfortunately, we are still in the infancy of brain scan research regarding reading and writing activities, and too many studies are still based on a very limited context of “literacy“ for example, reading single words in an artificial laboratory setting rather than reading whole texts in a natural home or school setting (for recent criticisms of brain scan research and literacy, see Coles, 1998, 2000; Ferguson, 2002).
The person who reads and writes is doing far more than simply linguistically encoding data. She is also looking at the visual configuration of the letters. Thus, spatial intelligence “the intelligence of pictures and images“ must first be brought to bear on the printed letters. Then she must match these visual images with sounds. In doing this, she must draw upon her wealth of knowledge concerning musical sounds (musical intelligence), nature sounds (naturalist intelligence), and the sounds of words (linguistic intelligence) in order to make the proper letter-sound correspondences. In addition, she brings in information from her body (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) to ground these visual and auditory sensations into a structure of meaning. The physical body is integral to processing the shapes of letters and the meaning of words and text. Once she begins to organize the information into grammatical units, she draws upon deep intuitive syntactic structures that employ logical-mathematical transformations. As she reads meaningful information, she may visualize what she reads (spatial intelligence), experience herself actively engaged in a physical way in the text (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence), have emotional reactions to the material (intrapersonal intelligence), attempt to guess what the author or characters intend or believe (interpersonal intelligence), and think critically and logically about what she is reading (logical-mathematical intelligence). She may decide to take action as a result of her reading and writing, either in a physical way (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) or perhaps within some larger social context (interpersonal intelligence)”. In each of these cases, the reader is bringing to bear different intelligences, upon the multilayered processes of reading and writing. Through greater awareness, both sides of the brain can be and are utilized in the activities of reading and writing, or indeed, for every human activity

The Genius of Tesla and Ramanujan

Let’s look at the lives of two of the greatest masters of their fields: Tesla, considered by many as the supreme modern scientist, engaged in reading many works, memorizing complete books, supposedly having a photographic memory. Tesla related in his autobiography that he experienced detailed moments of inspiration. Tesla was stricken with illness time and time again, in his early life. He was troubled by a peculiar affliction in which blinding flashes of light would appear before his eyes, often accompanied by visions. Much of the time the visions were linked to a word or idea he might have come across, at other times they would provide the solution to a particular problem he had been encountering; just by hearing the name of an item, he would be able to envision it in realistic detail. Modern-day synesthetes (Those with a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a colour) report similar symptoms. Tesla would visualize an invention in his mind with extreme precision, including all dimensions, before moving to the construction stage; a technique sometimes known as picture thinking. He was conceiving all ideas with his mind and did not even need to draw them. A polyglot, Nikola Tesla, along with his native tongue, also spoke Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin. During his second year of study at Graumltz, Tesla developed a passion for (and became very proficient at) billiards, chess and card-playing, sometimes spending more than 48 hours in a stretch at a gaming table. Tesla by nature required little sleep, claiming to never sleep more than two hours.  What incredibly all round dexterity!
Consider another master: Perusing the document that Srinivasa Ramanujan had sent him, the renowned mathematician G H Hardy of Cambridge became intrigued. While he recognised some of the Indian’s formulae, others “seemed scarcely possible to believe”. Several of the formulas were already known then, but after seeing Ramanujan’s theorems on continued fractions on the last page of the manuscripts, Hardy commented that he “had never seen anything in the least like them before”. He conjectured that Ramanujan’s theorems “must be true, because, if they were not true, no one would have the imagination to invent them”. What ensued was the discovery of one of the greatest mathematicians, who had much of the highest impact pure mathematics of the last century. The phenomenal collaboration that followed between Hardy, Littlewood and Ramanujan would continue until Ramanujan’s premature death at age 32. While the beauty of the story has long impacted all students of mathematics, the nature of Ramanujan’s mathematical genius, and how he himself perceived it, is not studied thoroughly. Hardy called it some kind of deep ‘intuition’, but Ramanujan openly stated that he received the mathematical inspiration and sometimes whole formulas, through contacting the Indian Goddess Namagiri while dreaming. Ramanujan was an observant Hindu, adept at dream interpretation and astrology. Growing up, he learned to worship Namagiri, the Goddess of creativity. Further, he often understood mathematics and spirituality as one. For Ramanujan, zero represented Absolute Reality, and that infinity represented the many manifestations of that Reality. “An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.” He quoted the Vedic texts, interpreted dreams and was regarded by his friends to be a mystic. Three months later, the Goddess appeared in his vision. Some stories say it was in the dream of Ramanujan’s mother. Others say that Ramanujan himself had the dream. But either way, the young Indian agreed to set sail to England, with a suitcase full of notebooks of mathematical formulas he had been compiling since age 14, through years of expulsion from college, marriage to his 9-year old bride, poverty, illness and his work as a clerk – on the way to greatness at Cambridge.
Both these geniuses showed extraordinary capacities – but not just of plain intelligence (the left brain) but also of intuition and creativity (the right brain). It is this juxtapositioning of capacities that made the total output exponential.

Business Leadership

Let’s relate the above examples to modern business. In a recent blog post on LinkedIn, Satya Nadella waxed eloquent of the power of Empathy, “I hope readers see the book’s (Hit Refresh) main takeaway as the power of taking everyday action driven by empathy.”
What does empathy have to do with business? Lots. According to the Microsoft’s CEO, there are very beautiful lessons which could be learned from practicing empathy at your workplace and in your life as well. As Nadella writes, “Hitting refresh is required for any person and organization looking to make a sustained impact over a long period of time.” He further added, “Ideas excite me. Empathy grounds and centers me”.
Some of his lessons on empathy:

  1. Empathy improves teamwork.
  2. Empathy helps open your mind.
  3. Empathy helps you admit mistakes and move on.

In Leadership Lessons from PepsiCo, CEO, Indra Nooyi (she recently retired and Ramon Laguarta took charge), Steven Snyder in an article on MAY 7, 2013, quotes:
“I have long been a fan of PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. Early in her tenure as CEO she announced “Performance with Purpose,” a mantra that would become central to the PepsiCo journey over these past six years. Today, she spoke at the Carlson School’s First Tuesday luncheon. Cheered by an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd of nearly 450, Nooyi chronicled five leadership lessons that together form the roadmap for global leaders in the 21stcentury.”
The article further cites –

  1. Balance the short-term and long-term.Today’s leaders are, all too often, driven only by short-term quarterly results, yielding decisions that are counterproductive for the long-term health of the organization and society.  Effective leaders must strike a balance.
  2. Develop a deep understanding of public/private partnerships.Nooyi points out that many private sector leaders treat the public sector (NGOs, governments) as the enemy—and vice versa.  “Stiff arming them is simply not going to work,” Nooyi says. Instead she advocates “walking a mile in their shoes.” Treating them with respect and understanding, as opposed to disdain and condescension can go a long way.
  3. Think global, act local.Nooyi argues – this is not an outdated cliché, but instead, sound advice that can yield innovative, out-of-the box solutions.
  4. Keep an open mind to adapt to changes.Nooyi cites Socratic learning—the art of asking probing questions to facilitate dialog and exploration. All-too-often, leaders close their minds to dissent, cutting off much needed debate. To lead in an ever-changing world, Nooyi says, leaders must adapt and stay nimble.
  5. Lead with your head and your heart.Leaders must develop deep emotional intelligence, and bring “their whole selves to work every day.”  They must continually remind themselves that everyone who works for them is a unique human being and seek to strengthen this human connection and bond.  Nooyi talked about how she wrote letters to the parents of her entire top executive team, telling them how proud they should be about the work of their offspring.  This unconventional act created an outpouring of emotion, and more deeply connected her executive team to the company mission—tapping into their underlying passions and sense of purpose.”

Interestingly, both Nadella and Nooyi, those who lead / led among the best known organizations of the globe, and highly admired for the Leadership abilities, focus on the softer aspects – matters of the heart – dimensions of the right brain. This is a recurring pattern we have seen in all the quoted instances.
The Right brain is feminine, specialized in emotion, empathy, caring, creativity, spiritual, holistic, nurturing. The Left hemisphere is masculine, specialized in order, reason, analysis, logic, details, doing. These two long for each other, they complete and complement each other.
As Talent Managers, learning from the above stories, what can we do differently?

  1. The full potential of talent lies in the combined power of the left brain and the right brain. We have to recognize that one without the other is suboptimal. The functions of each need to be appreciated – Nooyi and Nadella are great examples.
  2. The next step is to acknowledge that all talent is capable of genius. They have to be made conscious of this innate genius and encouraged to use both. There are many tools and methods to do so. Teslas and Ramanujans can be unearthed in every organization.
  3. Our systems of Talent identification, engagement and development have to be revisited, in the light of this so that we do justice to the complete potential. We have to be mindful of plurality of capacities rather than only looking for right fit.
  4. Conscious systems of generating “Medici Effect” have to be developed in our organizations, so as to build on each others’ talent, rather than merely encouraging solo stars. Adequate awareness, training, application, refining should be the order of the day.
  5. Even more than ever today, as we approach Singularity through path breaking Digital technologies, we need singularity viz. convergence of the human faculties to bring the evolution of our race to its peak performance.

Each of us have to become role models like Daedulus, and avoid becoming wasted potential like Icarus!

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