Union held the first annual Feigenbaum Forum on Innovation and Creativity last Tuesday, Nov. 3, featuring Professor Howard Gardner, father of the psychological theory of multiple intelligences.
Within the beautiful walls of Nott Memorial, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and members of the community sat, and even stood, to listen to Professor Howard Gardner.
As the speaker for the inaugural Feigenbaum Forum, Gardner would be setting the stage for numerous future speakers and, indeed, for the future of the forum. And what a stage he set.
Speaking about what constitutes creativity, innovation and where those traits come from, Gardner delivered a stunning and thought-provoking presentation.
His engaging oration and impressive ideas held the attention of the audience throughout his hourlong talk, imparting a whole new way of looking at the concepts of creativity and innovation.
Gardner’s topic and message fit nicely with the theme of the Feigenbaum Forum, a speaker series supported by an endowment and aimed at promoting innovation and creativity by bringing in speakers who have revolutionized their field in innovative and creative ways.
The forum was made possible through a gift from the Feigenbaum Foundation, created by the late brothers Armand V. Feigenbaum ’42 and Donald S. Feigenbaum ’46, who, after their time here at Union, went on to become world-renowned leaders in systems engineering and total quality control.
They were also long-time benefactors of the college, and hosted the previous incarnation of the Feigenbaum Forum, a gathering on campus at which academics discussed characteristics of a new generation of leaders and how better to integrate the liberal arts and other studies.
Union President Stephen C. Ainlay noted that the brothers would be “absolutely thrilled” with how their program has evolved.
After an aggressive awareness campaign that spread word of the Forum to every corner of campus, attendance of the Forum was spectacular. The Nott was overflowing with listeners, and even more watched a livestream of the presentation in Karp Hall.
Gardner spoke about his research into multiple intelligences, and how creativity ties into that.
He developed his theory of multiple intelligences in the 1970s, over the course of five years, and it revolutionized the fields of psychology and education.
Rejecting the idea of a single intelligence measurable by IQ tests, he instead proposed a model in which there were many different intelligences, such as spatial-visual, musical, interpersonal, mathematical and linguistic.
He spoke on Tuesday about the intersection of these different intelligences and creativity. He emphasized that creativity isn’t a one-size-fits-all idea, but that different intelligences have different creativities.
Discussing the disparate lives of famous innovators, from Freud to Picasso to Einstein, he demonstrated the different ways creativity can manifest and the conditions that bring out these creativities.
Beginning with the basics of his theory of multiple intelligences, he explained how each of us have many different ways of looking at the world, some of which we’re better at than others.
The meat of his talk, however, came first in his examination of the lives and successes of famous innovators and then in his analysis of creativity and innovation in the modern age.
Harkening to his 1993 book “Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi,” Gardner took the audience through the rises of these geniuses, including the circumstances that made them who they were.
He then transitioned to the modern age, looking at how creativity and innovation are expressed today. Perhaps one of his most striking points was the idea of different “sizes” of creativity.
He talked about the creativity of his historical figures as “big-C,” world-shaking creativity, but he also talked about “medium-C,” the kinds of creativity that your standard entrepreneurs, artists, writers and others have, and “little-C,” the kind of creativity everyone expresses on a daily basis in solving problems, taking pictures and generally creating things.
In an interview with Howard Garder I conducted prior to his presentation, our discussion ranged through a variety of different topics, from the use of technology to aid different intelligences to using the theory of multiple intelligences in college applications to the implications of his theory for liberal arts colleges.
Gardner acknowledged that, “when you’re young, it’s easiest to move among the intelligences,” but explained that, “it’s certainly possible. It’s a question of how motivated you are, how good the teaching is and also, now, what kind of technology is available to help you with things.”
He also praised the idea of getting a variety of intelligences to look at a problem, noting, “I’m sure you could think of some places where you need to have all people who are experts in linear algebra, but for most problems … it’s much better to have people who don’t just duplicate each other.”
Perhaps one of the most powerful points he made to me was about the spectrum of intelligences. If maybe 45 or so people truly listened and absorbed his talk and “the next day you asked each of them what they got out of the talk, they would talk about it in very different ways. Because even if they heard the same talk, they’re busy processing, synthesizing, making connections and so on.”
Relating this to the typical methods of assessment the American school system uses, he went on to say that, “When you have a very myopic assessment, you’re trying to force everyone into the same hole, and you’re just missing huge amounts of things.” Still, he acknowledged, “you have to make decisions. You can’t accept everyone to Union.”