Monthly Archives: May 2010

The mind of a five year old

In an earlier post, I talked about story-telling being the key to influence and leadership and re-cast some of the work of Gardner. One of the concepts that Gardner introduced me to is the “mind of the five year old” or the “unschooled mind”.

Gardner asserts that it is essential for a leader to be able to speak directly to the “unschooled mind”. Gardner draws the contrasts between the “five-year old mind”, that of a school child, “the ten-year old” mind and the adolescent “the fifteen-year old mind”. The five-year old sees matters in black and white. In many ways, the mind of the five-year old is wondrous. It exhibits an adventureousness and is open to new possibilities. (And, in a previous blog I discussed how a little fun always appeals.) Yet, in an uncomfortably large number of cases, the five year old has already made up his mind on a key number of issues. For a direct leader, who is often communicating to a wide diversity within their audience, the leader needs to traffic mostly in theories and views already possessed by the five-year old, then he should be able to bring about a modest change. To illustrate, one especially common story, dubbed the Star Wars story, is a protacted struggle between A and B, a struggle between good and evil. The mind of the five year old “gets” the Star Wars story.

But when a leader seeks to promulgate a story that is more sophisticated, he can exceed only if he educates the unschooled mind.

Whilst the five-year old mind sees matters in black and white; the ten –year old mind is fair to a fault. He takes on a much more measured and even-handed view of events and is able to accept that a single character may be able to harbour elements of good and evil at the same time.

The adolescent revels in relativism and superbly appreciative of the multiplicity of interests and perspectives. Not matter how strongly a personality may be promoted as an authority figure, the fiftteen-year old remains sceptical of that perspective. Even Gods have flaws in their eyes and devils harbour virtues.

For Gardner, adults (and not all adults reach ‘adulthood’ or even ‘adolescense’ in this model) have achieved a personal integration. They can see the pros and cons of the argument, but they still come down on one side with their own personal logic for why action is required.

Crucially for Gardner, it isn’t just the stories that the leaders tell; it is also the story that they embody.

Some story tellers are so skilled that they are able to create narratives that appeal to people at different developmental levels, through the choice of words, selection of examples and the use on non-linguistic clues, a leader may be able to convince his followers that he is on their side. (Maybe I’ll blog on NLP in the future.)

Throughout life individuals hear stories and have to evaluate their merits consciously and unconsciously. Gardners argues through abundant evidence that, more often than not, the less sophisticed story remains entrenched – and the “unschooled mind” triumphs.

Piggy-backing on entrenched stories has often proved to be an effective way to Presidency or Prime Ministership. This tack permits ‘ordinary’ (as ‘opposed to ‘innovative’) leaders to achieve their ends.

In much the same way as Dawkin’s concept of memes, Gardner sees the stories as vying for each other for supremacy. Dawkins sees memes as vying for brainspace. Gardner similiarly, but is perhaps also talking about how a story achieves a space in our collective conscience and that is only if people are talking about the leaders, the stories that they peddle and what they stand for.

The challenge for the storyteller then becomes clear: If he creates too familiar or formulaic story, then it will be ready assimilated. No one will object to it, but its distinctiveness and power will prove minimal. Creating a new story bears the opposite set of risks – that it won’t appeal and won’t get listened to and if it does, that it will get assimilated into an existing story and the point of the story will be lost.

So, if we’re busy trying to influence transport policy or we’re trying to influence the way that people travel, what story are we telling? Does our story appeal to the mind of a five year old? Are we trying to create a new story and how will that play out in the competitive “idea space” – will it ever grab any brainspace above and beyond existing stories?

Gardner’s work certainly puts a different spin on behavioural change.


Walking to the polling booth today?

Following the mini-theme of what might the election do to transport policy, other than simply shrinking government budgets, please find attached a nice extract from Jamie’s blog at

What do the party manifestos have to say about walking?

We’ve done an analysis of a number of party political manifestos to see what they have to say about walking.

First off, we haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down and reading every page of each one. We’ve carried out a slightly more simplistic exercise in which we downloaded PDFs of the documents and then did a search for “walk”, “walking”, “pedestrian”, “on foot” etc.

So with that caveat, here are the results (in strict alphabetical order):
BNP – nothing
Conservatives – nothing
Greens – 6 mentions
Labour – nothing
Liberal Democrats – 1 mention
Plaid Cymru – nothing
SNP – nothing
UKIP – nothing
So what do we make of this?
OK, in comparison to issues such as the economy, immigration and schools, you may not expect political parties to devote much space in their manifestos to walking. But then again, you’d have hoped that it may at least get a look in – the Conservative and Labour manifestos, for instance, manage to find space to talk about pubs and football…

Does this prove that we were right to be sceptical about the government’s plans “to put walking and cycling at the heart of our transport and health strategies”?

With the notable exception of the Greens, it looks as though walking remains a bit of a Cinderella issue, not warranting discussion compared to more ‘muscular’ projects.

Mentions of walking in the Green Party manifesto
“Services must be accessible. This means they must be easy and affordable to reach by public transport – and within walking distance in urban areas.”
“Support local shops through planning policies including business conservation areas, ensuring basic shops are available within walking distance in all urban areas and restricting the power of supermarkets.”
“We would prioritise transport modes according to the following hierarchy:
Walking and cycling
Public transport (trains, trams and buses) and rail freight
Heavy goods vehicles
“To encourage walking and cycling for shorter journeys and improve road safety we would:
Reduce speed limits (e.g. to 20mph in built-up areas, including villages).
Make streets safe; make them public spaces again. Plan for mixed-use developments where shops, housing and businesses are closely located and connected by pavements and cycleways.
Introduce a maximum speed limit of 55mph on motorways and trunk roads, and 40mph on rural roads, to make them safer for all road users.
Introduce schemes such as Home Zones, Safe Routes to School and pedestrianisation.
Ensure that at least 10% of transport spending is on securing a shift to more active travel like walking and cycling.”
“Expansion of public transport (and walking and cycling) is critically important to decarbonising our transport infrastructure, which is the only sector in which climate-altering carbon emissions are currently growing. We would divert money currently being wasted on huge road projects and put more of the UK’s transport budget into public transport, and especially into local schemes for walking, cycling and bus travel.”
“Increase the tranquillity of our urban environments, with less litter, less noise, reduced light pollution and more green spaces. Everyone should live within walking distance of natural green space.”
Mention of walking in the Liberal Democrat manifesto
“Include the promotion of safer cycling and pedestrian routes in all local transport plans.”

Where do the main parties stand on transport?

Courtesy of BBC London’s “Mind The Gap” blog, find out where the main parties stand on transport policy. where do they stand?