Nobody is saying that numbers-crunchers’ days are numbered. But the idea that having people with a strong background in the humanities—what Peter Drucker termed “Management as a Liberal Art”—can provide companies with a great advantage is gaining some real momentum.
Last week, Harvard Business Review ran a piece by Tony Golsby-Smith, which asserted that humanities majors can offer insights that are beyond the grasp of those who’ve focused primarily on business or economics or computer science. “People . . . who study Shakespeare’s poetry, or Cezanne’s paintings, say, have learned to play with big concepts, and to apply new ways of thinking to difficult problems that can’t be analyzed in conventional ways,” he wrote.
Among the areas in which liberal arts graduates are poised to provide major contributions, Golsby-Smith suggested, are helping corporations puzzle through complex or ambiguous situations; innovating; communicating; and understanding the customer through the power of “observation and psychology—the stuff of poets and novelists.”
Meanwhile, just about to hit bookstores is Drucker’s Lost Art of Management, a new title from the Drucker Institute’s own Joe Maciariello and his co-author, Karen Linkletter. They not only see an embracing of the humanities as a way for companies to be more effective; they also believe that lessons from the liberal arts are essential to making business more responsible.
“Fueled by corporate scandal and the behavior of out-of-touch executives who seem to have no moral compass, popular sentiment has turned against management as a profession,” Maciariello and Linkletter write. “Perhaps the only hope for redemption for management as a true profession is to practice management as a liberal art: to ground it in an understanding of shared cultural values that are inculcated through education and modeled through executive behavior.”
What do you think: Should businesses be hiring more people with a background in the humanities? If more companies do go in this direction, will it make them more effective? Will it make them more ethical?