Having earned my bachelor of arts degree almost 25 years ago, I’ve been able to watch the degree go through many cycles of celebration and rejection. It seems that every five years or so a flurry of articles and opinions are published that either refute or validate the good old B.A.
Well, it’s in favor again and it may just stay that way for some time. Tom Perrault, the Chief People Officer of Rally Health, made a persuasive case for the degree recently in the Harvard Business Review, on why liberal arts skills, not just digital skills, will hold the keys to a company’s future success.
Why are these softer skills getting more valuable? Because, Perrault feels, the ability to tell clear stories and design user friendly products and services is becoming more important for all companies. Liberal arts grads have a suite of skills that are well suited to just these tasks, and Perrault names four:
When it comes to creating tech products, “simplicity is hard,” writes Perrault. “Only people with specialized creative skills–honed from years of thinking, reading, writing, and creating–have the talent of making the complex simple and the difficult accessible.”
Business leaders increasingly require empathy both to understand the needs and problems of consumers, but also to get the best out of their teams. Studying the humanities boosts empathy, according to science.
Listening “is exactly what liberal arts majors have been prepared to do,” claims Perrault, “Knowledge workers who are able to truly hear and understand what is being said–and, equally important, what is not being said–will have a powerful impact on their organizations. By listening deeply, employees build substantive relationships with each other, as well as with customers. In doing so, they can perpetuate a more powerful culture and even increase sales.”
Computers can crunch numbers but they can’t see the big picture. In a world awash in data, you need humans for that. And it’s an area in which liberal arts grads excel.
Hard sciences like engineering, medicine, technology and math help us live longer, more comfortable, and more productive lives. The arts and humanities are why we live.
Remember the famous line by teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in 1989 film Dead Poets Society:
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
Have a great week.
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