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.