Liberal Arts And Business – Continued

As a manager I am concerned with making poor decisions. Decision-making to a manager is critical to their success. Knowing when to make quick decisions and when to take your time is an important managerial skill. I also think that one of the worst decision-making errors a manager can make is the escalation of commitment error. Escalation of commitment is the continued commitment to a poor decision, and it includes the increasing expenditure of resources to try an make the decision work.

With all of the changes we are making to the business program at WPC, I am trying to find the balance between change and legacy. I don’t want to create something that slows down our development and advancement as a program. I don’t want to create change for change sake, and I don’t want to draw conclusions that are incorrect either. I don’t want to commit to something and ignore the facts, leading the department in the wrong direction.

However, there is one thing I know and it continues to be reinforced by what I am reading is the positive relationship between teaching business and liberal arts. The continue emphasis on teaching business within this setting is something our department needs to continue. Warren Bennis, in his book On Becoming a Leader, agrees with me.

The section that I read this morning starts with a glaring critique of higher ed. “Universities, unfortunately, are not always the best place to learn.” Ok, I kind of agree with him, but I think there is more to this that what appears in this first sentence. “Too many [speaking of the universities] produce narrow-minded specialists who may be wizards at making money, but who are unfinished as people.” Oh my, what an incredible comment. Even now I am thinking of students I have had in the past who fit this description. They are really good at making money, but totally lack humanity.

Bennis then makes another incredible comment. “These specialists have been taught how to do, but they have not learned how to be. Instead of studying philosophy, history, and literature – which are the experiences of human kind – they study specific technologies.” I don’t think Bennis is discounting those technologies, just the over emphasis on the said technologies. “In the long run narrow specialties may be more prone to obsolescence and may fail to deliver big salaries.” Hmm, not sure I agree about the big salaries.

It sounds to me that Bennis is arguing that the goal of business education is to create a well-rounded person first, and a business practitioner second. This is reinforced by two individuals from the past; Lynne Cheney, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Roger Smith, former chairman and CEO of GM.

Cheney stated that, “Students who follow their hearts in choosing majors will most likely end up laboring at what they love.” Interesting, and those are the ones who will never work a day in their lives (I don’t mean they will be unemployed, but that as they work they will be happy). Smith stated, “When students are trained to recognize recurring elements and common themes in art, literature, physics, and history, they are . . . learning about the kind of creativity that leads to visionary solutions to business problems . . . People trained in the liberal arts would be able to understand, function in and contribute to the loose-tight, entrepreneurial organization that so many businesses are striving to become.” Smith recognizes the critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities that emerge from the humanities.

Liberal Arts training when associated with business will develop future leaders who can tolerate more ambiguity, critical in this modern age of complexity, while creating more innovative solutions. Once again, I am sold on teaching business within a liberal arts environment. It is a marriage made in heaven.

And that is my thought for the day!


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