Humanities Essential for a Creative Business Sector
August 31, 2013
By Robert Weil
Published in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter
In recent years, many of us have followed the growing debate about the shortcomings of education in society at large, but particularly within the business sector. As a member of the business community, I feel the need to add my voice to those who are concerned.
For nearly fifty years I have devoted myself to analyzing companies, studying the world around me, and conducting business. In retrospect, I realize that what has influenced my view on the world more than anything else are childhood outings to major cultural institutions with my parents, and subsequently my own discovery of more experimental art. My interest in culture and society has remained strong ever since—influencing how I live, think and work.
I have always held the conviction that art and culture should be integrated with business and that they should be given the same consideration. In 1987, my company Proventus first became involved with experimental culture with the founding of Magasin 3 (a museum of contemporary art in Stockholm, Sweden) and has since expanded its engagement to include support of the performing arts. Exposure to the creative processes within art and culture, together with our macro analyses, shapes and informs how we conduct business.
Cultural education is too important to be solely dependent upon the interest, insight and economic situation of parents. Schools must take responsibility for education in visual art and creative thinking from an early age, while the children's potential for development is greatest.
My case for the humanities has nothing to do with trying to get the business world connected with elite milieus. I consider the humanities to be absolutely crucial for business development and totally indispensable for creating a better society. It is about broadening perspectives and learning to respect and value cultural difference, while developing and using our creative skills. It is the best way to improve our ability to make responsible and informed decisions.
The humanities are not given enough priority in Swedish schools. This is especially true of the Arts, which is no longer compulsory in during high school. This sends a message that has serious repercussions throughout society. A stated goal of Swedish Minister of Education Jan Björklund is for secondary education to focus on future employability, but I believe that this comes at the expense of a well-rounded education. The difficulty of measuring creative ability and artistic quality should not be an excuse to abolish these subjects from the high school curriculum. Meanwhile, humanities are also conspicuously absent from many professional degree programs at the university level.
I consider innovation and growth to be prerequisites for stable societies. But how can these be achieved if education and research are increasingly skewed towards science with no connection to the humanities and other creative subjects? How can we gain insight into the origins of creativity, which in turn leads to innovation and growth?
How will we know what innovations are needed if we are unable to understand the human condition and the processes of change within society? How can we gain insight into the challenges we will face in the future? A future that will involve immense upheaval, great complexity, constant ambiguity, and difficult dilemmas, and which will surely require new perspectives, discussions, and reflections.
We must improve education and encourage creative skills by allowing science and the humanities to go hand-in-hand. Education and training in the arts must begin early for all children, just as it does for science, and not be isolated in specialized schools. Visual art should be reinstated as a compulsory subject in secondary education and means for evaluating these subjects need to be established so that they are given the same status as the subjects that are more easily quantifiable. We need educators who are trained to shape a better society and deal with a market in constant flux. That is what will generate optimal employability in the future.
Though there are some initiatives at universities today to offer liberal arts programs (natural and social sciences integrated with the humanities), the humanities historically occupied a much more central role in education. Unfortunately, it is not only in Sweden that the future of these subjects is being compromised. In her book Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010), American professor in philosophy and law, Martha C. Naussbaum, argues that the humanities are essential for creating the critical thinkers and empathic citizens necessary for a functioning democratic society. She warns against the current trend in which a liberal arts education has given way to subjects that are more focused on economic growth.
Even representatives of the American business and educational sectors are concerned. In fact, the current structure of business education with its very limited perspective on nature, society, and culture was a contributing factor to the 2008 economic crisis—something worth thinking about. The recent investigative report “Heart of the Matter” aimed at the United States Congress, highlights the risks posed by the diminishing financial support for research and education in the liberal arts. The study points out that the current one-sided emphasis on research in the sciences can undermine America’s intellectual strength.
I want our children to have the opportunity to develop their full potential in schools that are capable of integrating science, social sciences and the humanities. We need schools capable of cultivating children’s natural curiosity and inquisitiveness and that encourage children to see society from as many perspectives as possible—even perspectives that aren’t necessarily their own. This is especially important considering that the majority of our children will be working in jobs that don’t even exist today, alongside people who have their roots in cultures other than their own.