So. I’ve been coding both casually and professionally on and off for quite a while now. But before I got into tech I was profoundly interested in people. Whilst I’ve always enjoyed the creative challenge of building software, and relished that little dopamine itch that comes with watching your tests go green; I have always been endlessly fascinated by what drives people, and what it is that makes us tick.
I’m especially interested in clinical and behavioural psychology, and spent a while when I was younger reading up on case studies and theories that I found interesting. And in a departure from tech, that’s what this little blog article is about — People.
What makes some of us shy away from awkward situations, whilst others jump in head-first without a second thought? Why are some of us able to easily navigate complex mathematical problems, but others shrink away at the thought of trying to answer simple questions in front of an audience? In this piece we’re going to look at a popular theory of Mind from Howard Gardner in 1983:
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
In his 1983 book Frames of Mind, Gardner proposes that there are 8 specific “labels” of intelligence which can frame our learning and developmental experiences. Rather a single “continuum” of intelligence upon which we find ourselves, he proposes that intelligence is multi-faceted and diverse. The evidence around this theory continues to be hotly debated, but I’m finding this whole idea super interesting, and want to talk about these different facets and what they could mean for you and your team!
So heeeere they are!
Musical-rhythmic and harmonic
Those with musical intelligence hear and understand patterns in sound very easily. They are able to detect rhythm and pitch and are often much more able to understand concepts by turning them into rhymes or songs. Folks with musical intelligence are known to use patterning as a technique for memorisation, and are often very able to remember words and phrases in foreign languages.
People with visual-spatial intelligence demonstrate good spatial judgement as well as an ability to visualise things with the mind’s eye. They may exhibit a capacity to solve problems relating to navigation and the visualisation of objects from different angles or projections. This capability or intelligence is often found in people who may be visually impaired.
Put simply, verbal-linguistic intelligence is defined by an ability to express yourself using words. Those who are linguistically-gifted may find themselves better able to convince or persuade others about a particular idea. They are able to communicate complex ideas effectively and succinctly, and are able to change their language to suit their audience.
Those possessed of logical-mathematical intelligence are well-equipped to think logically, identify connections and reason about them. Those with a high level of mathematical intelligence are generally great with numbers, understanding complex, abstract ideas and following scientific investigations.
This type of intelligence is demonstrated by physical fluency. Being creative with their hands or having great physical coordination are both examples of this type of intelligence. People who have a strong level of bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence will often find joy in the mastery of a physically-demanding sport.
Interpersonal intelligence is also referred to as Emotional Intelligence. Those with this kind of intelligence are able to understand and interact effectively with other people. Those with this intelligence demonstrate effective verbal and nonverbal communication, and a sensitivity to the moods and temperaments of others.
Intrapersonal intelligence, conversely, is the ability to introspect oneself and understand your own drives and motivations. Those who demonstrate a high degree of intrapersonal intelligence are very adept at being able to understand themselves and their motivations. They understand what they want to achieve and are able to plan according to those desires.
And finally we have naturalistic intelligence. Those possessed of a high degree of naturalistic intelligence generally have a high level of interest in the natural world. They strive for a strong understanding of ecology, and feel a connection to the Earth.
There is an apocryphal image of a Computer Programmer. Hunched over their desk in a dark basement, covered in spots and wearing a metal tee; the image of a programmer is one which is couched entirely in 1 type of intelligence — Logical-mathematical. This programmer shuns social interaction for video games and possesses no natural grace, making them naturally terrible at anything requiring Bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence.
This predilection for dark rooms and late night coding sessions reduces the programmer’s exposure to social situations, preventing them from developing that Interpersonal intelligence.
I am obviously shoe-horning these modes of intelligence into a particular persona in order to illustrate a point. It is reductionist, verging onto offensive to suggest that every single coder exhibits the same personality and behaviour. It’s equally as overly-simplistic to extend a similar pattern to the traditional sporty jock character. But it’s also worth mentioning that these learning and intelligence blueprints aren’t hard to find in the real world.
Personally I find that I learn things better by doing rather than by being spoken to. I’m not one of those people who’s able to pick things up by just reading a book, or having maths concepts explained to me by a human. Equally I am finding more and more that it’s my Interpersonal skills that I end up leaning on the most as a consultant, something which I’m not sure I would have continued to develop if I were to have stayed coding by my own li’l self.
Look around you the next time you’re in a planning or design session. Are you all talking the same language? Allow room in your conversations for people to engage in a way that suits them (something which, considering our current isolation may be difficult to achieve).
- Give people time to work things out for themselves — Intrapersonal intelligence is something that they may excel at.
- Allow folks the opportunity to change their surroundings if it’s something that could increase their receptivity to learning and new ideas, given a more Naturalistic setting.
- Whiteboard things out for your team members. Visual learners will appreciate ideas being described from a different perspective.
I dunno. My main takeaway from this theory is that you owe it to yourself to understand your team, and how they work — Irrespective of your role. If you assume that everyone learns the same way and talks the same language, you’re neglecting the great opportunity that neurodiversity presents for teams.
By accepting that intelligence is not some Likert scale 1 through 10 or a score that can be graded out of a hundred; you provide a human framework through which you and your people can grow and be happy.