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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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In The Other Side of Organized, Linda Samuels, CPO-CD® will encourage you to get organized enough to reduce the stress of life’s details and make time to embrace your passions. Already, thousands of clients and readers have found help and inspiration in her advice, personal reflections on change and connection, and vision of what can be accomplished when you find that sweet spot between chaos and perfection.

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Ask the Expert: Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner "Ask the Expert" interview about being Wonderfully HumanThe “Ask the Expert” feature is an interview series that connects you with industry thought leaders and gives you the opportunity to participate in inspiring conversations. This year we’ve spoken with Jane Pollak about possibility thinking, Dorothy Breininger about success, Dr. April Lane Benson about enlisting help, Leslie Josel about motivation, David Allen about time management, Peter Walsh about clutter, Sheila Delson about letting go, Laura Berman Fortgang about next steps, Judith Kolberg about change, and Sue West about fresh starts. This month I’m excited to have with us cognition, learning, and ethics expert, Howard Gardner, to share his insights and experience about multiple intelligences and learning.

Long before I met Howard, I became familiar with his theory of multiple intelligences through our youngest daughter’s third grade teacher. She designed her classroom based on his theories to help each child honor and explore their strengths. Several years later I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Howard speak at a local music school. My deepest gratitude goes to Howard for graciously saying, “yes” to this interview and for taking the time to join us. Before we begin, here’s more about him.

Howard Gardner is a psychologist and writer who has been at Harvard for over fifty years. He is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is the author of twenty-nine books including The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate, Identify, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership and several hundred articles. Best known for his work on intelligence, creativity, and leadership, he has been studying the nature of good work, good citizenship, good digital play, and associated ‘goods’ and trying to enhance their incidence in today’s world. You can connect with Howard through Howard Gardner or The Good Project websites.


Linda Samuels:  You are internationally known for developing the theory of multiple intelligences. What becomes possible when we understand that we process and learn in diverse ways? 

Howard Gardner:  There is greater understanding of other persons. Why, for example, they can approach a task in a way that is totally different than ours, and yet be equally, perhaps more successful.

At work and play, instead of looking for persons like us, we instead search for individuals with strengths and weaknesses that complement our own.


Linda:  You once said that, “…when we study plants or atoms, they are not affected by what we learn.  But when we study human beings, our findings can affect the future behavior of humans.” What has been your most surprising discovery?

Howard:  My most surprising scientific discovery:  While the left hemisphere of the brain processes ordinary language, it is the right hemisphere that understands metaphor, irony, intention, and other speech acts.

Most surprising general discovery:  Rather than being primarily cognitive, creative achievements emanate from a certain kind of personality and temperament living in a certain cultural context.


Linda:  In your book, Intelligence Reframed, you wrote that we each have a “unique blend of intelligences.” How can we best embrace our uniqueness?

Howard:  Not to worry about what we can’t do, nor to worry about whether we are like others. Instead, pursue what you love, what you can get better at, share it with others, and they will reciprocate.


Linda:  Many professional organizers use their understanding about learning styles and differences to more effectively help their clients. How does your theory of multiple intelligences relate to learning styles?

Howard:  Individuals continually conflate MI and learning styles and yet they are ENTIRELY different concepts. Learning styles refers to how people putatively approach a range of tasks; for example, person A has a playful style, while B has an obsessive one. Intelligences refer to the strengths of our several mental computers. I may compute language more effectively than I compute spatial relations, and yet I have every right to decide to become an architect rather than a poet.


Linda:  How have your theories changed the way you personally interact with other people?

Howard:  When assembling a team, I look for individuals whose abilities complement one another and think about how to get them to work synergistically.


Linda:  Is there anything else you’d like to share that I haven’t asked?

Howard:  What questions do you think cannot or should not be answered in 500 words or less?!


I love your sense of humor, Howard. Yes, I realize that it’s not a simple matter to craft the responses to all these questions using 500 words or less. I greatly appreciated your ability to do so. I apologize if this limited what you wanted to share. If you would like, feel free to add additional thoughts to the conversation (without any word limitations.)

Thank you for sharing your wisdom about learning, intelligence, and being human. The thread throughout your responses of appreciating our differences and embracing our uniqueness resonated with me. We aren’t the same. Why should we be? It’s in the sharing of these differences that makes life interesting.

I invite you to join Howard and me as we continue the conversation. Come share your thoughts about being wonderfully human. Which ideas speak to you?

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Reader Comments (26)

Wonderful insightful interview! I always say play to your strengths and that is the essence of what is shared here. Thanks for affirming my thoughts on how we all work best.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

Little does he know it, but, he is THE most quoted man in my home! For years, I've shared his insights with my two sons and their friends.

I'm a big believer that all of us are creative and our accomplishments have everything to do with our personality and temperament as well as our cultural.

I love this interview. I'm a fan of The Good Project and all of Howard's work.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeralin Thomas

Linda, thank you for this interview with Howard Gardner and thank you to Howard for his work in this field. I very much appreciate his views and I love the quote about scientific findings affecting the future behavior of humans. That sentence alone gives me incredible pause for thought.

I also apprerciated this post because I am currently in the process of trying to weave together a discussion of multiple intelligences and using one's modality strengths for a coaching course I'll be offering in the spring. I'm struggling a bit with it, but I think your timely post will support me in moving past my "stuck" as it has reenergized me. Thank you!

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Sharb

Two thoughts hit a chord with me:

"Not to worry about what we can’t do... pursue what you love, what you can get better at..."

"I may compute language more effectively than I compute spatial relations, and yet I have every right to decide to become an architect rather than a poet."

First one, made a clear point, do what we love or that thing we are good at. The importance of knowing ourselves and having the mind chasing and achieving the goals that make us happy.

That brings me to the second point. When I was young and had to decide about my career, I knew I have a natural ability with numbers and could be a good Accountant but my dreams aimed to push my creative limits, becoming an Architect. I was unsure if that could be my path but I gave it a try. Almost 16 years have past and turned out well. Now I have another dreams and goals and thanks to that chance I took years back, now I am sure anything I pursue, no matter how daunting, I could achieve if put heart, mind and efforts to reaching the goal.

Thanks to Howard for giving a piece of his mind

Linda, my gratitude to you, with every post, you teach me so much.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNacho Eguiarte

Thank you Dr. Gardner and Linda! Being a teacher, I am intimately familiar with Dr. Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. My work as a math teacher at a vocational high school exposes me daily to the wisdom of Dr. Gardner's statement, "pursue what you love, what you can get better at, share it with others, and they will reciprocate."

As most of our students come to us because they have had struggles in traditional school settings, we find our jobs are not only to teach skills needed for many hands-on trades but to help students feel good about what they do well.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShar

My son has ADD, OCD and a learning disability. The line that starts Not to worry about what we can't do what I try and instill in him everyday. I will let him read this and then he will see it is not just me (his mum) who is telling him this. Thank you Dr Gardner and Linda for a thought provoking piece. You always publish such inspiring post from inspiring people Linda.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

I am fascinated with Dr. Gardner's research and intrigued to learn more about MI.Thank you Linda for hosting this interview.

What resonates here with me is my own theory for achieving optimal productivity; "work with your strengths, and hire your weaknesses." So yes, it's ideal to pursue what we love and what we're good at.

But the focus that I especially love is the collaboration and sharing our "uniqueness" with each other and feeding off the "best" parts of us. This approach to "blending" with others around us can take us to places we might otherwise never go.

Distinguishing MI from preferred learning styles is eye-opening. The architect vs. poet analogy really clarified the difference for me. Thanks Linda for the valuable education! Love it when I learn new things :).

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

My heart is full with all that you are sharing here. Thank you. What an amazing conversation.

@Ellen- "…play to your strengths." Yes!

@Geralin- Had no idea that Howard was "THE most quoted man" in your home. I can understand why.

@Andrea- I can only imagine the wonderful "weaving" you will do as you put together your new coaching course. I'm looking forward to learning more from you.

@Nacho- Those two points you pulled out spoke to me too. I love how you let us know more about your path.

@Shar- So wonderful to hear your perspective from the teaching standpoint. Your students are so lucky to have you in their corner.

@Jill- Wow! Your son is so fortunate to have your love and support. And yes… I know what you mean about how our children often need to hear "it" from a non-parental source to embrace the message.

@Nancy- There is so much to learn from Howard. He's one of the brilliant minds of our times. What I love most is the focus he gives on being the best of what we can be as human beings…both individually and collaboratively.

November 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I have a similar philosophy which I call "row downstream". We spend way too much time trying to fit ourselves (and our children) into one mold. How boring! We should go where we naturally want to go (if possible) because it is in this path where we are most relaxed and have the most ability to shine. A whole river of people rowing downstream makes for a terrific regatta!

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

Appreciating diversity in our choices and in our relationships is critical to successful communication. I have always valued and appreciated Dr. Gardners views on accepting and celebrating differences in everything we think, say or do. In relationships, I imagine it like two people sitting opposite one another on a teeter totter. Doing the same thing at the same time would result in a high level of frustration for at least one of the two or perhaps a total leveling out with no movement up or down, just sitting there. Boring! But if we recognize the power of differences that compliment one another, then one enjoys the ride while the other pushes and vice versa. Each bringing their unique talents and intelligences. Thanks for sharing with us Dr. Gardner and Linda!

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoland Rotz,Phd

Linda thank you so much for this and the other valuable insights you provide in your Ask the Expert Forum.

November 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterColette Robicheau

@Seana- Love your concept of the "row downstream" philosophy. Interesting to note that while Howard talks about understanding your strengths, he also says you have "every right to decide" to choose a completely different direction where your strengths may not be as evident. Even though we may have competencies in certain areas, it may not be what "calls" to us.

@Roland- Powerful words, "Appreciating diversity in our choices and in our relationships is critical to successful communication." That followed by your see saw analogy…just lovely!

@Colette- Wonderful to have you with us. Come back any time.

November 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Thanks for sharing this interview, Linda. I love the idea of assembling a team of individuals with strengths that complement each other. When everyone is playing to their strengths and following their own passions, the work is so much more fun for everyone involved.

November 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanine Sarna-Jones

Janine- And as Dr. Suess says, "Fun is good." And yes... that appreciation and valuing of diversity is essential.

November 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Thanks for another great one, Linda

This has my attention considering my many creative clients.

"Rather than being primarily cognitive, creative achievements emanate from a certain kind of personality and temperament living in a certain cultural context."

Putting it on my list to investigate further. I am curious about the environmental factors that contribute to creative achievements.

Oh, and what about bumping up a couple hundred words? :)


November 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCameron Gott

Cam- I was just having this conversation with my brother earlier in the week. We were talking about the environment we grew up in, "a creative household." It was/is a family value. And it showed up not just in the obvious ways (music, art), but in all aspects of living and being (a way of thinking, problem solving). Interesting thinking about it in the context that Howard talks about.

And yeah…guess that 500 word limit is a bit restrictive. What can I say? Just trying to "organize" the guests. :) Always learning.

November 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Twice now in three weeks, I'm hearing or reading about multiple intelligences. So the bell has rung and I will add to my reading list. And then share with my coaching clients (and family and friends, lucky ones again!). The answer about "unique blend" - I was saying something similar to a client; I will share this blog at our next call for more discussion. Intelligent, creative Q&A- thanks to you both for the inspiration.

November 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue west

Sue- You are in for such a treat. I know all the concepts of MI will resonate big time with you, your clients, family and friends. It's affirming NOT to be typed into a single box and know that we are a wonderful and unique combination of strengths and gifts. Especially for those that feel less confidence (and even for those that are,) Howard's theories are sure to uplift and build confidence. He shares a deep appreciation and respect for our differences.

November 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I first heard about Howard Gardner when I was a student at NYU studying to become a teacher. So interesting to read your interview now... years later. I'm still a teacher, just under different circumstances.

Oh, and I loved this:

"Not to worry about what we can’t do, nor to worry about whether we are like others. Instead, pursue what you love, what you can get better at, share it with others, and they will reciprocate."

November 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Lee

Deb- I didn't know that studying at NYU to be a teacher was part of your background. Very cool. How interesting how your background has become an integral part of the work you now are doing. Love the quote you pulled out from Howard's interview. It's such a positive, uplifting message that celebrates and embraces our diversity and uniqueness - a timeless idea.

November 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

It seems to me that this philosophy could very well be the key to success and happiness: "pursue what you love, what you can get better at, share it with others, and they will reciprocate."

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

Janet- I think you've nailed it here. Howard's philosophies are so uplifting and affirming. And yes…as you suggested, could very well be the key to "success and happiness." Great thoughts to carry with us into the New Year, aren't they?

December 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I first became aware of Dr.Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences when I was working towards my teaching degree, way back when:-) I was completely taken by it. As I reflected back - at my life experience - it all started making sense. We live in a culture that professes to honor diversity yet we go out of our way to fit in. Diversity makes many people uncomfortable and our education system is designed for the visual learner.
Imagine a world where we are able and willing to approach life from a place of strength rather than weakness and celebrate each other's unique contribution. What couldn't we accomplish then?
Thank you Linda and Dr.Gardner.

December 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYota Schneider

@Yota- It's interesting how you said that as you became aware of Howard's Theory of MI not only were you "taken by it," but that reflecting back, "it all started making sense." His ideas value diversity and strengths. They encourage and value our unique gifts. And if we all were to come from that perspective (celebrating diversity), as you said, "What couldn't we accomplish then?" A wonderful question to share.

December 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

I think Dr Gardner may have given me a ride from Cambridge to Allston in 1985 or so, when I was studying cognition. In 2005 or so I wrote an article for NAPO News about the ways things I'd learned about cognition related to organizing, but it didn't get accepted (I wonder if I could dig it up . . . )

December 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJane Campbell

Jane- That's so cool. It would be fascinating to see the article you wrote about cognition and organizing. Let me know if you "dig it up." I'd love to read it.

December 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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