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The Seven Intelligences: Enhance Six Sigma Training

Howard Gardner suggests that every person has a unique combination of multiple intelligences. Understanding what these intelligences can help practitioners design a variety of ways to better communicate lessons about Six Sigma.

By Mongkol Tongboon

Master Black Belts drive the evolution of a company’s Six Sigma deployment. They are trainers, mentors, project leaders and implementation guides. As such, Master Black Belts need to understand the different learning styles of adults.

In his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 1993), Howard Gardner suggests that every person has a unique combination of multiple intelligences. Understanding what these intelligences are gives people greater insight into their own learning style, as well as the style of others, which can help them better communicate lessons about Six Sigma.

What Are the Multiple Intelligences?

Intelligence is made up of at least seven elements, as described by Gardner:

1. Linguistic – The intelligence of words. People with this intelligence can argue, persuade, entertain, instruct, write clearly and play with words. It also allows them to use language as a means to remember information.

2. Logical-mathematical – This is the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.

3. Spatial – The intelligence of pictures and images. This intelligence gives one the ability to manipulate and create mental images in order to solve problems.

4. Musical – This encompasses the capability to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones and rhythms.

5. Bodily-kinesthetic – The intelligence of the whole body and the hands. Some famous bodily kinesthetic people are Michael Jordan, David Copperfield and Charlie Chaplin.

6. Interpersonal – This is the ability to understand and work with people. People with intelligence in this area are sensitive to others and able to put themselves in another’s shoes. The can network, negotiate and teach.

7. Intrapersonal – The intelligence of self-knowledge, providing a high level of self-awareness, self-discipline and independence.

Applying Multiple Intelligences in the Six Sigma Classroom

Everybody has their own distinct blend of intelligences. Six Sigma trainers can show learners how to use their intelligences to assist in the understanding of a subject. The following are some classroom activities that will stimulate greater learning for people who possess those intelligences.

Linguistic: How can I use the spoken or written word?

  • Use each letter of the alphabet to jot down learning points. At the end of each course, learners can come up with words that link the letters to their learning. For example: A = Attribute data, B = Binomial distribution, C = Control chart
  • Hand each student a card with a word, phrase or statement relating to the lesson. The student can explain it or give an example of how it can be used.
  • Play a matching game with flashcards. Students can match terms to their meanings.
  • Use a crossword puzzle or word search. Trainers can prepare a number of different words that relate to the topic.

Logical: How can I bring in numbers, calculations, logic, classifications or critical thinking?

  • Set up a “what if” experiment in the classroom. For example, in a sample size calculation lesson, have students answer this question: What would happen if I double the amount of critical difference?
  • Draw up list of statements, and ask students to quickly identify whether each is true or false. Then challenge them to tell you why the true items are true and how they would change the false items to make them true. This pushes learners into deep logical thinking.
  • Create a logic-challenge problem. The problem could be included in a statistical or non-statistical lesson. Then challenge them to come up with solutions.

Spatial: How can I use visual aids, visualization, color, art, metaphor or visual organizers?

  • Help students use mind mapping as a visual means of representing ideas, thoughts, plans and progress on any given project. Use images, words, order, lines, color and space to create a one-page picture of all the information associated with a topic, idea or project.
  • Use images to simplify complicated statistics and help explain a point. For example, when teaching confidence intervals, I used image of rambutan, which is Thailand’s tropical fruit. A rambutan’s size is measured by its diameter from skin to skin, ignoring the hairs jutting from the skin¡¦s surface in order to gain a stable measurement. Because the pieces of rambutan hair have different lengths (some are short and some are long), this would cause variation in the measurement. If the rambutan hairs are removed, however, the measurement becomes more stable.
  • Create a graffiti wall to recap or highlight key learning points from the previous day’s lesson.

Musical: How can I bring in music or environmental sounds, or set key points in a rhythm or melody?

  • Use songs when you want learners to remember things that are important. In normal distribution probabilities there are three values that represent the area under the normal distribution curve (+/- 1 sigma = 68 percent, +/- 2 sigma = 95 percent, +/-3 sigma = 99.7 percent). Compose a simple melody and create lyrics with the above values. Then let students sing the normal distribution probabilities song repeatedly until they can memorize all values.
  • Play a musical game by preparing a number of sheets of paper with questions relating to the training topic. While playing music, a paper sheet is sent from one student to another. When the music stops, the person who is holding the paper sheet must unwrap it and answer the question.

Bodily-kinesthetic: How can I involve the whole body, or hands-on experiences?

  • Put together a classroom with materials such as balls, blocks and sticky notes. Those materials can be utilized for class exercises. For example, students can throw the ball to each other. The person who catches the ball must either share a learning point from the lesson or the person throwing can ask them a question.
  • Incorporate physical exercise into a statistical topic. While teaching regression and correlation, my students were assigned to prove human body’s proportion as described by Leonardo da Vinci. The artist famously depicted correlation between the length of a man’s outspread arms and his height.

Interpersonal: How can I engage learners in peer or cross-experience sharing, cooperative learning or large-group simulation?

  • Incorporate group discussions to exchange knowledge. People who have interpersonal intelligence are more likely to seek out another person for help than attempt to work it out on their own.
  • Set up teach-back sessions. Challenge students to teach another person or group of people, in their own words, about key concepts.
  • Give students an index card stating a common organization-related problem. Challenge them to work together to come up with solutions by using the tools they learn in Six Sigma class, such as a fishbone diagram, cause-and-effect matrix, or failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA).

Intrapersonal: How can I evoke personal feelings or memories, or give students choices?

  • Create a selection of self-esteem activities. For example, ask learners to list 10 of their strengths or have them write specific ways they are a good Six Sigma practitioner.
  • Give individual assignments and prepare a corner for individual work. Use the classroom facility to make cozy spaces for students.

Imparting Essential Knowledge

Trainers will not always find ways of including every intelligence in their curriculum plans. But they should think about how their strengths and weaknesses in the seven intelligences influence their teaching, and then revisit their teaching plans. Remember, the aim of Six Sigma is not to convert students into statistical experts. Instead, it is to give them the knowledge essential to their success in obtaining business results.

About the Author: Mongkol Tongboon is a Black Belt with responsibilities in manufacturing engineering and teaching the DMAIC roadmap to Black Belts and Green Belts. He works in Thailand with Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, and can be reached at mongkol.ton@hitachigst.com.

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Comments 1

  1. cj.roberts

    I love this theory on intelligence as at least a guiding light to group dynamic appraisals. Determining strengths and weaknesses by first appreciating the fundamental unique intelligence of each individual allows for a candid appraisal without putting anyone into a delinquent category. Quality becomes the responsibility of the lead and is not solely decided by outward effectiveness.

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