Book Reviews

Book by Howard Gardner
Review by Michelle M. White
Director of Academic Advisement
Department of Academic and Student Development
Millersville University


Nearly all of us would prefer to live in a society that features good work of excellent quality, pursued in an ethical and socially responsible way, and is engaging, meaningful and enjoyable. The contributors of the book explore the question--how can we attain this ideal of good work in a world that changes rapidly and features an ethically compromised milieu? Based on a large-scale research project, the GoodWork® Project, Howard Gardner, William Damon, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Jeanne Nakamura, among others, consider information gleaned from in-depth interviews with over 1,200 individuals from nine different professions: journalism, genetics, theatre, higher education, philanthropy, law, medicine, business, and precollegiate education.  The research focus fell largely on elite professions, ones open to those with ample education and viable career options. Most of the subjects were well-known veteran practitioners; however, workers-in-training and selected retired individuals were included. During the interviews, subjects were asked a variety of questions about their work including:
•    the mission of their work
•    their most cherished values
•    the obstacles to the achievement of their goals
•    the strategies adopted to deal with those obstacles
•    the changes that had taken place in their field over the years
•    the training they had received, the individuals who had had the most profound impact on their work
•    the mentoring they had provided to younger professionals.
Their answers reveal how motivation, culture, and professional norms can intersect to produce work that is personally, socially, and economically beneficial. At the heart of the study is the revelation that the key to good work is responsibility, in other words, taking ownership for one’s work and its wider impact.

The authors examine how responsibility for work is shaped by both personal and professional components. They explore the factors that cause a sense of reasonability, the obstacles that lead to compromised work, and the educational interventions that can lead to a greater sense of reasonability. More important, the authors within this volume suggest strategies for cultivating greater responsibility in both seasoned professionals as well as the young people who will one day enter the workplace. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, the sense of responsibility works in similar ways in men and women; the subjects describe the same obligations, pressures, and opportunities.

This book will resonate with those who made a decision to enter a caring profession like academic advising. The willingness to go against the odds, the capacity to persevere, and the skill to navigate uncharted domains are all symptomatic of individuals who do not refrain from assuming responsibility, indeed, who embrace it themselves and model it for others. The book appeals to a wide audience as an array of informative and skillfully written insights into the responsibilities, meaning, and ethics of work. Everyone can learn and profit from this research and the challenge to inspire individuals of all ages and professions to think deeply about the purpose of work and about the effects of their own work on the larger society. In conclusion, the researchers state their responsibility clearly: to portray what it means to be responsible, to model responsibility to the best of their ability, and to pass on a sense of responsibility to the future stewards of the workplace and the wider world.


Responsibility at Work: How leading professionals act (or don’t act) responsibly. (2007). Book by Howard Gardner (Ed.), Review by Michelle M. White. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 368 pp., $27.95, ISBN # 978-0-7879-9475-4
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