October 22, 2009

Howard Gardner, the Harvard University professor, describes the results and applications of his 15-year GoodWork Project.

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Harvard University scholar Howard Gardner became interested in the concept of "good work"  more than a decade ago, when he found out his own work on the theory of multiple intelligences was being misconstrued.

A racially motivated group was using Gardner's theory — that humans possess numerous autonomous intelligences as opposed to a single intelligence that can be measured with tools such as the IQ test — to show that certain races were not as intelligent as others, he told a Trout Auditorium audience of more than 400 students, faculty and community members at Bucknell University Wednesday night.

The revelation resulted in what Gardner called the "GoodWork" Project, which assessed goals, values and objectives among professionals in fields such as journalism, law, medicine, science, business and education. He and his collaborators found that three elements - excellence, ethics and engagement — are essential for good work and citizenship.

"Good work is ethical, responsible and not just about No. 1," Gardner said. "Good work is easy to achieve under conditions of alignment and when all the stakeholders in an enterprise want the same thing."

Gardner, who has published a series of books on individual and institutional leadership, spoke as part of the ongoing Bucknell Forum national speakers series, "Global Leadership: Questions for the 21st Century." In a talk titled "Leadership that is Ethical: Promises and Pitfalls," Gardner described the results and applications of the 15-year GoodWork Project and how they may be applied in various professions.

Accomplished scholar
A Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Gardner is the author of more than 25 books, a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship. More than 25 years ago, Gardner introduced his multiple intelligences theory, which impacted teaching and research in education and psychology.

This past year, The Wall Street Journal named him one of the top five "influential business thinkers."

GoodWork Project

Gardner started the GoodWork Project in collaboration with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon to study work that is "excellent in quality, socially responsible and personally meaningful."  The group's insights have been applied to research in the concepts of trust and trustworthiness in young people and the ethical issues associated with digital media.

Gardner said he and his collaborators started with the questions: What is good work? What is a good life? What makes a good citizen? The researchers posed ethical dilemmas to individuals and asked about their mentors and "anti-mentors," their goals, principles and purposes and obstacles in trying to meet those objectives.

Journalism was one profession that Gardner and his research partners found to be "highly misaligned." Reporters, editors, publishers and readers all wanted different things, and a third of those interviewed - even 10 years ago, before the struggling economy and digital technology were the prominent obstacles they are today - wanted to leave the profession.

Those in the profession of genetics, on the other hand, were highly aligned, Gardner said. They all were reaching for the same goal: to promote longer life.

"When personal values, traditions, outcome and social controls are in line, then good work is possible," Gardner said.

Gardner now is looking at how young people are affected by social media, young people's sense of identity, ownership, authorship, particularly in the community.

For more information go to Goodworkproject.org; Howardgardner.com and Goodworktoolkit.org.

Bucknell Forum
The Bucknell Forum series will continue Tuesday, Nov. 10, with a talk by Doug Lebda, Class of '92, chairman and chief executive officer of Tree.com. Lebda will discuss: "Lead or Fail: The New Challenges of a New Economy" at 7:30 p.m. in Trout Auditorium.

In the spring semester, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an internationally known environmental lawyer and bestselling author, will give a talk: "Globalization and the Green Economy: A New Vision for American Leadership and Strength," at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2 in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts.

Contact: Division of Communications

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