Monday Mornings with Madison

Understanding Multiple Intelligences, Part 2

Multiple Intelligence Theory, first proposed by Professor Howard Gardner in his book Frames of Mind (1983), stated that people learn, remember, perform, and understand things in different ways.  That didn’t sound like a revolutionary concept until he referred to these differences as “intelligences.”  But Gardner wasn’t talking about a person’s level of intelligence, like IQ.  Rather, he was talking about types of intelligence.  Gardner put forth that there are eight types of intelligence, namely:  language, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, use of the body to solve problems or to make things, an understanding of other individuals, an understanding of ourselves, and an understanding of the natural world.  Each person has different intelligences, and the ways in which those intelligences are used and combined to carry out different tasks, solve diverse problems, and progress in various domains also differs from person to person.

If Gardner’s theory is correct, then it stands to reason that aligning each employee’s individual intelligences with a job that most uses those competencies could help an organization increase productivity, service, profitability and staff satisfaction. For example, logical-mathematical analysis intelligence would be vital to a job as an Accountant or Statistician.  While almost every career uses a blend of several intelligences, clearly some intelligences are more critical to performing certain jobs than others.  The key would be to hire people whose key intelligences best fit the job.  It would ensure that each employee was ‘made’ to do the job they had.  Gardner called this “the clearest path to efficiency and engagement in the workplace.”  In practical terms, how does a company do that?

Hiring the Best Person for the Job

One misunderstanding managers have often made in screening and hiring a candidate for an opening is assuming that “qualified” means the appropriate credentials.  Education.  Past work experience.  Skills.  Google hires for “fit.”  Southwest Airlines hires for “attitude.”  All of this is important.  But what “qualified” really means is that the candidate has the capacity to do the job that he or she is being given within that setting.  When a person has a particular capacity (or intelligence) ideal for doing a given job, other soft skills such as attitude, attendance, drive and punctuality fall into place.  That person does the job in an almost effortless way…. ‘like a duck takes to water.’  That’s because when a person’s innate abilities are well suited for a job, he/she is more likely to want to do the job and do it well.  The idea, then, is to hire a person whose intelligences fit best with the job and workplace.  Keep in mind that while any person possesses the aptitude for all eight intelligences, each person is typically only strong in three areas.  So finding a person whose strongest intelligences fits perfectly with a job is the trick.

One would think that hiring based on the application of the Multiple Intelligence theory would be widespread.  Interestingly, while MI theory has been widely adopted as a way to connect teachers and how they teach with learners’ intelligences, it has not been as widely used as a way to connect employers and job openings with employee capacity.

So how does an employer inject Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory in the hiring process?

Step 1 – Identify the job intelligences needed.

The first step in the process is to determine what kinds of intelligences are needed most for the tasks the employee will be performing.   Each intelligence solves different problems and creates different results.   It is important for the hiring manager to know what specific problems the new employee is tasked with solving or what products he is tasked with fashioning.

If you missed last week’s article, here is a short description of each of the eight Intelligences.

  1. Visual-Spatial: The ability to visualize in multiple dimensions and understand conceptually the way objects move in space. Tasks that employ this intelligence include inspecting product quality, designing products, designing web pages, segmenting market geographically, etc.
  2. Bodily-Kinesthetic: The ability to control one’s bodily motions with superb coordination and balance. Tasks that employ this intelligence include manufacturing physical products, repairing equipment, maintaining facilities, athletic performance, driving long distances, etc.
  3. Musical: The ability to understand, create and experience the world through rhythm, sounds, tones, pitches, and music. Tasks that employ this intelligence include giving presentations, musical performances, creating audio/video, making calls, etc.
  4. Interpersonal: The ability to interact comfortably and competently with others. Tasks that employ this intelligence include selling, leading teams, resolving conflict, negotiating, etc.
  5. Intrapersonal: The ability to think deeply and engage in introspection. Tasks that employ this intelligence include developing strategy, developing marketing content, handling human resource issues, developing social responsibility initiatives, organizing, etc.
  6. Linguistic: The ability to use words, written or verbal, to understand and articulate. Tasks that employ this intelligence include jobs that involve a lot of communications including writing, speaking, interviewing, etc.
  7. Logical-Mathematical: The ability to understand symbols, formulas, logic, and critical thinking. Tasks that employ this intelligence include bookkeeping, data or statistical analysis, purchasing, financial reporting, etc.
  8. Naturalistic: The ability to relate information to one’s natural surroundings. Tasks that employ this intelligence include gardening, traveling, developing environmental policies, animal care, etc.

Determine which intelligences are most aligned with a particular job opening.  For example, if major mortgage lender was seeking to hire a Customer Service Manager for its Call Center, the position would likely best be filled by someone with strong Interpersonal, Intrapersonal and Linguistic intelligence.  The position would require someone to lead a team, resolve conflicts, handle human resource issues, communicate effectively in person and writing, conduct interviews to fill openings, and organize processes.  If, however, a real estate holding company was seeking to hire a Building Maintenance Superintendant, the position would likely best be filled by someone with strong Bodily-Kinesthetic, Visual-Spatial, and Interpersonal intelligence.  The job would require a person to repair equipment, maintain facilities, inspect equipment quality, resolve conflicts with tenants, and negotiate terms with vendors.  In sum, the first step is to clarify and communicate what specific intelligences the job requires and the right candidate should possess.

Step 2 – Advertise job openings at places related to those intelligences.

For instance, if a company is hiring a Communications Manager, it would help to advertise in libraries, bookstores, and colleges. The company could also post information about openings on social media groups that are dedicated to communications, media relations and business writing.  On Google Plus, for example, people join circles according to their interests and likings. If a hiring manager knows what kind of intelligences are needed, he/she can find a similar niche on Google Plus and recruit there.

Step 3 – Eliminate unqualified candidates.

Remove applications and resumes from those unrelated to the desired intelligence.  This step is easy.  Knowing clearly what is needed also helps to clarify what is not needed.  When reading online resumes, align the checklist of intelligences with the applicant’s strengths.  Ignore charismatic profiles and charming or persuasive cover letters. Disregard impressive credentials.  Look for evidence of the key intelligences.  In short, look for signs of intelligence types that are needed and remove the rest.

Also, eliminate candidates in which a weak intelligence constrains the expression of a strong intelligence.  For example, the weak linguistic intelligence of a person whose first language is not English could prevent a person from expressing a strong interpersonal intelligence because she cannot speak well in the language required for the job.

This issue can also happen on team level.  It is important not to hire an individual whose individual intelligence overpowers and constrains the intelligences of others.  For example, a candidate who’s Linguistic intelligence overpowers the speech of others.  Although linguistic intelligence might be an asset, in a given setting it might be viewed as bossy or domineering.

Step 4 – Recruit Balancing Agents

Look for candidates who can strengthen and offset the weaknesses of other employees.

In an individual, compensation occurs when one intelligence makes up for another. For example, strong linguistic or interpersonal intelligence might make up for weak spatial intelligence in a person who may not be able to orient herself in an unfamiliar environment but get directions to remain on course…The benefit of compensation is that it supports how a particular job performance might emerge through several different combinations of intelligences.  Within a group setting, a balancing agent is a person who builds a team’s effectiveness by empowering, helping, or teaching individuals how to perform a task or by bringing an intelligence that can compensate for a weaker intelligence.  For example, a new HR assistant with strong spatial intelligence could help balance an HR team’s ability to make room for new hires and help new hires find their way in the organization.

Step 5 – Recruit the Well-Rounded Candidate

A well-rounded candidate is one who possesses more than the typical two or three strong intelligences. While the laser mind focuses on one or two forms of information, the well-rounded mind is characterized by a capacity—and a proclivity—for regularly sampling information in diverse ways.   This person has two or three strong intelligences and then additional strong intelligences.  Keep in mind that while having someone with a host of intelligences is great, when hiring for a particular job, the focus should still be on what is needed most for a job.  The rest is an asset, but it should not be the focus.

Last but not least, here are a few questions to help a hiring manager use multiple intelligence theory when recruiting.

  1. What skills would my ideal candidate possess? Which intelligence links with these skills?
  2. Where can I find people with those desired intelligences?
  3. Which intelligences am I definitely not looking for?
  4. What are my top candidate’s strengths, and how do those reveal his/her weaknesses?
  5. How will this candidate’s intelligences fit or clash with my already existing team?
  6. Can this candidate compensate for a particular employee’s weaknesses?
  7. Does this candidate have multiple intelligences?

Quote of the Week

“It’s not how smart you are.  It’s how you’re smart.” Anonymous


© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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