In the global marketplace, business students are demanding coursework that gives them a window on the world.
They want to develop a global mindset, understand the world and find inspiration to come up with the next big thing.
Businesspeople need to understand human nature more than ever before. That’s why the liberal arts and business education must go hand in hand.
At the heart of disruption in any industry is creativity. Sometimes, executives need to break the rules and think outside the proverbial box. They can develop that mindset through the study and practice of literature, music, art and science.
Businesspeople often feel drawn to subjects that force the studious to follow certain processes and rules, like math. Those subjects take center stage in the corporate world. Still, to understand human nature, leaders need to do more than crunch numbers.
Of course, data should inform decisions. But leaders also need to grasp context when creating new business models for a global economy, where everything and everyone is interconnected.
That is precisely why business students need to learn psychology, history, sociology, culture and art. Without the liberal arts, they cannot have a complete long-term vision, a necessity for any business executive.
Learning foreign languages is important as well. Students unearth a culture and a different way of thinking when learning another language. They notice subtle differences in the meaning of a word from one language to another. Of course, ultimately, they increase their own communication skills, ideally in multiple languages.
Electives are another way for business students to gain an appreciation for the liberal arts. The key to creating these types of courses is to marry them with the types of skills that businesspeople need to succeed.
Art has had direct relevance to the work of business leaders, especially in recent years. Integrating design and business programs has been a popular trend for the last decade. Aesthetics is increasingly important to creating brands and products.
In our world, now defined by digital transformation, the human factor takes on even greater importance. We will always need numbers in the corporate world. But they will be rendered meaningless without the human touch.
Studying the liberal arts is perhaps more important than ever in helping businesspeople make better sense of situations that are not well-defined. The arts help students hone critical thinking and communication skills, which come in handy when dealing with complexity and ambiguity.
In addition, these skills give students insight into human relationships. This can help them appreciate diversity in the form of different cultures, backgrounds and experiences. All of this allows for stronger leadership, which does not signify only the ability to manage and oversee a group of people working together; it also means knowing when to follow others.
Of course, studying liberal arts also helps businesspeople grapple with ethical dilemmas. Subjects like literature and philosophy provide examples and frameworks for determining the fine line of distinction between what is legal and what is legitimate, and help in weighing the pros and cons of any given situation.
The future undoubtedly will bring unforeseen challenges, and those in the business world can’t afford to be unprepared. Using all resources available to them, including the liberal arts, business students will enhance their toolboxes. They will differentiate themselves in the ever-competitive job hunt. Indeed, those who look down on the arts in favor of a solely quantitative education risk losing their edge.
Roland Siegers is the executive director of CEMS. Formerly known as the Community of European Management Schools and International Companies, CEMS offers a one-year post-graduate management degree in which students attend three different top schools in three different countries.