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Humanities Graduates Bring …well…Humanity to Bear at Work

I thought this extremely thought provoking blog post by fellow Harvard Blogger Tony Golsby-Smith  was a great reminder that although analytical tools and frameworks can help solve certain kinds of problems, they are hopeless facing other situations.

Among the advantages humanities training offers that Golsby-Smith points out are:

  • The ability to deal with ambiguity and see richer patterns
  • Creativity and curiosity, correlates with innovation
  • Skilfull writing and presentation of ideas

I would also argue that students of the humanities are far more likely to be aware of aspects of leadership we don't spend nearly enough time on – for instance, the emotional meaning people make of executive actions.  I've written before about the power of symbolism and was teaching about it recently at a company famous for its hard-charging, numbers oriented culture.  After the session, not one but about a quarter of the people in the room came up to me with the same basic acknowledgement "I stink at symbolism – I get it wrong every time."  Perhaps we should assign those folks a dose of some of the classics to see the meaning that people can make of their actions and how easy it is to be misunderstood.

With respect to writing and communicating, even though some people have a gift for it, there's no substitute for practice and feedback if you seek to get better.  Humanities training does that, too. 

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