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Extraordinary Minds: Portraits of 4 Exceptional Individuals and an Examination of Our

Own Extraordinariness
By Howard Gardner

Looking at how ordinary and extraordinary people develop, think and behave differently.
Gardner sees 4 archetypes for extraordinary minds and profiles the quintessential example of
each, then draws lessons.

Ordinary vs Extraordinary Development
Gardner spends a chapter looking at how children ordinarily develop into competent
adults, and I won't go into that here. Standard development psychology.
Gardner then looks at extraordinary development - especially kids with exceptionally
high IQs. Not the Terman studies which looked at kids who were just "a lot smarter than
average" and could skip a grade or two, but kids who have IQs of over 180.
These kids are generally not well-adjusted, "prone to anxieties and to severe social and
emotional problems", but do better when interacting with other kids like them. These kids
"exhibit notable energy, curiosity and focus with reference to domains that interest them
... They are persistent learners ... self propelled and march to their own drummers"
He argues that while there is certainly a strong biological influence to children's
intelligence levels, there is much to be said for early training as well as other cultural and
developmental factors.
o He proposes a "5 Experiences A Day" thought experiment to counter the purely
biological approach:
o Imagine two genetically identical individuals - one who has 5 positive
experiences each day and the other has 5 negative. After 5 years, there will be
20k+ experiences that separate these two kids
o we would expect a huge difference in how they think and behave.

Someone who dominates an existing domain.
Mozart and music
5 types of creative mastery
o Producing permanent works in a genre (mozart did this)
o Executing stylized performances (he did this too)
o Solving recognized problems (Watson and Crick, Wright brothers)
o Formulating a general framework (Newton)
o Performances of high stakes

Someone who innovates and creates a totally new domain.
Freud and psychoanalysis
Patterns of a Maker
o grew up in upper middle class community near center of intellectual life
o talented in a range of areas and works diligently to improve
o family dotes on child but love often attached to achievement
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o as young adult moves to center of cultural life - making tentative choice of
o does training, may work with a Master
o spends lots of time alone, exploring ideas that are foreign to most except for a few
o grows dissatisfied with current work, struggles to find new formulation
o these new ideas start changing the field, but Maker never rests
o work can be all consuming, and innovation continues, often at 10 yr marks
o later work might be more synthetic and general, or totally new area

Someone who deeply explores his/her inner mind/thoughts/feelings/experiences.
Woolf and writing
I find this chapter less focused and frankly less interesting
Discussions of madness and creativity and how introspectors must learn to communicate

Someone whose primary goal is influencing other individuals.
Gandhi and social change
harder to separate makers from influencers as both change the way individuals function
Influencers act directly on people, makers influence domain directly, people indirectly
Patterns of Influencer (looking at 11 leaders like FDR, Margaret Mead, Oppenheimer)

o wide range of childhood experiences (some poor, others wealthier,
o most dislike school and seem talented but "lost"
o generally favor verbal intelligence - esp spoken, but also written
o understand themselves, and other people well and ask fundamental questions
about life
o most striking feature is willingness to challenge authority and take risks, often at
early age
o often cut their teeth on local circles of friends and schoolmates which quickly
o often crave different experiences, travel to new cultures
o during childhood many lost or have absent parents
o w/o strong male figure, create their own set of norms and overall personal
o no need to master a traditional domain or technical skill
o Do spend 10+ years understanding politics or journalism/military/business
Above all, influencers are story tellers who weave their personal narrative with the story
of their movements

o must defeat the existing stories with counterstories
o stories must be simple yet compel heterogenous populations to come together
(often by creating a "them" to fight)

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Gardner sees three key elements to extraordinariness
o we cannot assume that lessons from experience will automatically dawn on us
o must reflect: regular concious consideration of events of daily life in light of long
term aspirations
o Seek feedback, esp from Masters, but always subject input to own critical
o Editors Note: I have since started a daily journal and a "lessons" journal that I fill
with things to remember and lessons to take from my current experiences and
found it quite interesting
o ex Mozart wrote tons of letters to friends, Freud was constantly thinking about his
asspriations and the success/failures he encountered, Gandhi took daily walks,
meditated, had strategy sessions, wrote lots of essays, books.
o We are all different from others in certain ways, but we must identify and use
those points of difference
o the capacity of certain individuals to ignore areas of weakness and figure out how
to use strengths to gain competitive advantage
o ex. Freud was bad at math and logical reasoning, so created new field of
psychoanalysis to leverage strengths of language and organizational abilities
o ex. Gandhi did not worry that he was a bad student or didn't have authority within
existing gov't but used strengths of personal awareness, understanding Indian
people's psyche to create a revolution
o capacity to construe experiences in a way that is positive and allows one to draw
apt lessons
o its not so much seeing the bright side of a set back as the learning opportunity it
o if this approach to life becomes an ingrained habit, the cumulative effect can be
o ex Freud was faced with constant setbacks with his theory's acceptance, Gandhi
absorbed many difficulties and criticisms and was able to convince his followers
that they were triumphant even in moments of apparent defeat
If you aren't impressed by this trio of features, imagine someone who never reflected,
didn't really use their strengths effectively, allowed their weaknesses to thwart their
efforts, got discouraged by failures that they didn't learn from.

Gardner ends with the point that society (esp Educators) must look for signs of extraordinariness
in young people, esp Makers and Influencers and support their growth to ensure that they will be
humane and moral beings whose powerful effect on society ends up being positive, rather than