Understanding the environment: Thinking styles and models
Understanding the environment: Thinking styles and models

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Understanding the environment: Thinking styles and models

Activity 1C: Carrying out an 'audit' of your multiple intelligences

In this activity you will explore your strengths and weaknesses with regards to various intelligences, and how these may influence the way you model reality.

Activity 3

First of all, you need to familiarise yourself with the various multiple intelligences outlined in Resource Reading 1.3. I would like you to do this by identifying examples of your own expression of these intelligences, and how you would rate yourself according to each of these faculties. Maybe you could develop a mathematical model by assigning a number between 1 (pretty lousy) and 10 (genius) for each of the eight intelligences. You could then create a visual model by drawing a 'radar' or 'spiderweb' diagram where all of the eight multiple intelligence axes meet at one central point and radiate outwards to resemble the spokes of a bicycle wheel. On each of these axes draw a scale of 1 to 10, mark your individual scores on each one of these axes and then join up the marks.

What does your 'wheel' look like? Is it a nice, large, well balanced shape? Or, are you in for a bumpy ride?

How do you think each of these intelligences affect the way you model the world verbally, visually and mathematically? Which intelligences are predominantly analytical, and which are based on intuition? Is there a correspondence between your cognitive style index and your multiple intelligence audit?


Most good educational institutions encourage their students to develop themselves in all of these intelligences. Indeed, Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences has been an inspiration to curricular development in many schools all over the world. Unfortunately, as we progress with our education, we are very soon encouraged to specialise within one of these intelligences, as illustrated by the examples I provide in Resource Reading 1.3. Most radar diagrams of multiple intelligence audits therefore end up lopsided and unbalanced. Yet, a systemic understanding of complex situations ought to include verbal, visual and mathematical models. Even musical intelligence can occasionally intuitively evoke visual imagery, and is frequently associated with kinaesthetic intelligence to reinforce the communication of a visual model, and/or linguistic intelligence to reinforce the communication of a verbal model.

It is therefore not surprising that many people feel extremely uncomfortable when engaging with systems thinking and practice for the first time. For all their adult lives, most people have been encouraged to specialise and become experts in the execution of particular skills and specific fields of knowledge. Systems thinking and practice goes directly against this trend, and instead encourages you to become a Jack-of-all-trades.

It might be particularly interesting for you to investigate further the score you gave yourself for 'naturalist intelligence'. There is a clear link between this intelligence and what Fritjof Capra calls 'ecological thinking':

It is now becoming apparent that over emphasis on the scientific method and on rational, analytic thinking has led to attitudes that are profoundly anti-ecological. In truth, the understanding of ecosystems is hindered by the very nature of the rational mind. Rational thinking is linear, whereas ecological awareness arises from an intuition of non-linear systems. One of the most difficult things for people in our culture to understand is the fact that if you do something that is good, then more of the same will not necessarily be better. This, to me, is the essence of ecological thinking. Ecosystems sustain themselves in a dynamic balance based on cycles and fluctuations, which are non-linear processes. Linear enterprises, such as indefinite economic and technological growth – or, to give a more specific example, the storage of radioactive waste over enormous time spans – will necessarily interfere with the natural balance and, sooner or later, will cause severe damage.

Capra (1982)

For most other intelligences I would recommend that people should seek others with alternative cognitive styles and intelligences in order to achieve a more balanced and potentially more comprehensive view of a complex situation. Of course, this goes against most people's instincts, which is to seek like minded people. This may indeed simplify the model of the complex situation you are engaging with, but it may not be a true reflection of the actual complex reality. However, when it comes to naturalist intelligence/ecological thinking, I would recommend that we all try our best to progress this intelligence – for personal well-being and that of humanity and planet Earth as a whole.

In systems thinking and practice we highlight the importance of judging where to place the boundary around your system of interest (which delineates the area that you actually wish to focus on when investigating a complex situation). Many investigations of complex situations, including systemic explorations, simply limit themselves to the natural or social realm, as typified by the classic division between the natural and social sciences. However, the perspective proposed in this course emphasises the interconnectedness between natural and social systems within all systemic investigations. Indeed, one could argue that social systems are a subset of natural systems. This is the main reason why you will be asked to calculate your personal ecological footprint in Activity 3C.

Ecological footprinting is increasingly being used to not only assess personal impact on natural systems, but also to reveal the impact of households, communities, organisations and nations as a whole. Of particular relevance to this section is the idea that getting into the habit of monitoring your ecological footprint beyond the requirements of any particular activity is one of the simplest steps that can be taken to increase your naturalist intelligence.


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