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How you are smart is more important than how smart you are: The benefits of developing multiple intelligences

Posted by Deb Muoio

Mar 7, 2014 9:01:00 AM


Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren probably strikes most people as a great deal of brute force with very little brain, but there is more than meets the eye. He has a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and alleged IQ of 160. Most people would be impressed with that alone, but Lundgren also shows amazing bodily-kinesthetic potential, and probably knows exactly where to punch someone to maximize pain, if one could go by his role in “Rocky”. The point is, the traditional definition of intelligence can be limiting in terms of explaining cognitive ability. Many professionals are so focused on how high a person’s IQ is that they don’t really take the time to consider how the person is smart.

Howard Gardner pioneered the theory of multiple intelligence, taking a bold step by breaking away from classical views of IQ. “I say, pay one’s respect to school and to IQ tests,” he concluded, “but do not let them dictate one’s judgment about an individual’s worth or potential. In the end, what is important is an individual’s actual achievements in the realms of work and personal life.” Gardner believed that each individual has the potential to manifest varying levels of different intelligence types, if the time and effort is taken to develop them - and our research, based on the Assessment of Multiple Intelligences (AMI), shows that it may be well worth the endeavor to do so.

When we looked at students who perform in the top 5% of their class, we noticed that they excelled in six out of eight intelligence types, including Linguistic, Visual-Spatial, Musical (which tends to correlate very strongly with Visual-Spatial), Intrapersonal, and Naturalistic. The gap between top students and below average students was prominent in Logical-Mathematical intelligence. Students with average grades excelled in Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Nearly half (44%) of top-performing students frequently used 4 or more intelligence types, 26% have 5 or more, and 15% have 6 or more; for below average students, the results are 29%, 15%, and 7% respectively. Interestingly, both below average and top students indicated that they learn best through hands-on learning, and are very visually-oriented. This begs the question: If they share this preferred style of learning, why the large gap in performance?

The reason is, top students are more likely to nurture more than one intelligence type, while below average students may be focusing only on those they are best at. Top students will strive to turn their weaknesses into strengths, and will take advantage of opportunities to develop their intellectual capacities in many different ways. And when education is tailored to a person’s intelligence type it makes a huge difference. People strong in Linguistic intelligence, for example, can absorb a lot of what they read and hear. Those with Visual/Spatial intelligence learn through observation. This may be the reason why a lot of students get restless in class, or don’t perform well on standard tests. Maybe that fidgety kid in the back row would rather act out Shakespeare than listen to someone read it, or would grasp scientific theories better by conducting practical experiments. And while Dolph might listen attentively while you explain a cool, new martial arts move to him, or how to use a Catalytic Combustion Analyzer, his Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence would dictate that he learns better with a more hands-on approach.

These theories can also be applied to the work environment. Knowing an employee’s intelligence type and learning style allows you to tailor projects to their strengths. Here are some tips that can help maximize an employee’s performance based on their intelligence type:

Bodily-Kinesthetic Employees:

  • When training, don’t just verbally explain what needs to be done – let them do some practice runs. Bodily-Kinesthetic employees can absorb information better when they can put it into action.
  • Use them in leadership or mentoring positions where their role is to train others.
  • Got a new software or machine that you’re company will need to learn to use? Have these employees figure it out, test it out, and then teach others.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic employees can sit still for very long. This is the perfect mobile employee – send them to trade shows, conferences, or to help with the opening of a new branch.

Logical-Mathematical Employees:

  • When brainstorming, suggest that they use techniques like Forced Relationships/Analogies (comparing an idea or problem to something familiar – e.g. If you compared your sales channels to a tree what would it look like?)
  • Allow them to categorize or organize work and ideas using tables, charts, graphs, etc.
  • Put their detective skills to the test. Ask them to come up with solutions for persistent problems, budgeting issues, or involve them in strategy meetings.
  • When providing SPECS for a project, use a structured approach, with step-by-step instruction, flowcharts, and diagrams.

Linguistic Employees:

  • Provide detailed instructions or outlines for projects (in writing).
  • Put them in charge of writing, editing, and proofreading materials, and note-taking during meetings.
  • When brainstorming or problem-solving, encourage them to reason and analyze out loud – essentially, allow them to talk it out.
  • Ask them to convert employee or client materials that are technically-heavy into a more user-friendly language.

Visual-Spatial Employees:

  • Encourage them to use visualization techniques when brainstorming a design for a project.
  • Seek out their input on the design and color scheme of websites or products.
  • Provide visual imagery like flow charts or graphs when explaining a task, project, or process. Better yet, provide them with a Mind Mapping application.
  • Put them in charge of, or as a consultant on, presentations for prospective clients.

Musical Employees:

  • Allow them to brainstorm, or work with music in the background.
  • Being auditory learners, they’ll understand and retain information when they hear it rather than just see or read it.
  • Consult them when considering adding music or jingles to advertisements.
  • Offer them recognition and validation of their musical ability by allowing them to DJ events or company parties.
  • Note: Musical intelligence is sometimes linked with mathematical and logical. If this is the case with some musical employees, these strengths can be put to good use.

Intrapersonal Employees:

  • When tackling a project or task, allow them some time to brainstorm on their own. These employees have an amazing ability to tap into their intuition and other inner resources. Note: While they can work well on team projects, they may prefer to work on their own more often.
  • Relate tasks or projects to real-life or personal experiences. The more meaningful the project, the more dedicated these employees will be.
  • Don’t rush these employees into action or drop last-minute tasks on them – they need to ponder and process things.
  • Encourage the use of time management strategies so that they don’t spend too much time thinking and reflecting.

Interpersonal Employees:

  • When tackling a project or task, allow them to work with a partner or at least have someone to bounce ideas off of.
  • Get them involved in brainstorming sessions and problem-solve in groups.
  • Get these people-persons out there among the public, whether it’s in customer service, recruitment, negotiations or presentations.
  • Don’t put them into positions where they would feel isolated, unless they also have high intrapersonal intelligence

Naturalistic Employees:

  • When learning new material, encourage them to classify it into different categories. This is particularly important when working with abstract information – they need to be able to relate it to something in real-life.
  • Set them to the task of creating a user-friendly filing system, or organizing material into a logical order.
  • Enable them to be environmentally friendly at work
  • Assign them to do tasks that are related to nature, such as fundraising for environmental issues, preparing outdoor team-building activities, taking care of plants etc. 

If you’re interested in using AMI (Assessment of Multiple Intelligences) or other tests for HR purposes, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.


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Topics: HR Tips, Mentoring, Employee Development, Intelligence, Coaching, Competencies, Productivity

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