The Humanities Advantage
By Abhijit Bhaduri
What should the CEO do if they powered on their laptop in the office and found a ransomware note on the screen. They need to pay up a whopping amount in Bitcoins or else in 48 hours all data would be irretrievably wiped clean from every computer the business has. All of a sudden he finds himself negotiating with a bunch of hackers in some undisclosed location. No business school would have prepared the CEO for this scenario. But the clock is ticking.
If you are a leader in manufacturing, think of the impact of 3D printing on your business model. Or when your prized employee gets terminated on grounds of harassment. How do respond to media?
What we expect from a leader is very different from what we did even ten years back. As the world gets more and more connected, the employees expectation of engaging with the leader has evolved. Employees expect leaders to communicate in real time. Sporadic all-hands meets where the leaders duck uncomfortable questions is no longer acceptable.
Questioning Mental Models
Leadership skills that work well in a structured, logical and homogenous world simply break down when it comes to dealing with a volatile and ambiguity laden world. It is time to question our assumptions and beliefs that make up our world.
One of the most important mental models to question will be our assumptions around talent. Organizations still go to the premier B-Schools to hire potential leaders. MBAs spend time honing their business skills and financial chops. Several business school graduates are strong in execution and learn to influence others. Many of them join start-ups or build one of their own after completing business education.
As automation and artificial intelligence changes the business landscape, leaders need to inspire others. They need to build compelling communication skills. The ability to navigate unstructured environments, engage others with their vision is becoming a more important skill than what is understood as “left brain” skills that depend on logic and analysis. The machines are taking over these tasks.
Try out some Humanities graduates
Humanities students learn to explore human interactions by using analysis, critical thinking and unstructured discussions. They learn to tease out the relevant from the irrelevant in a mass of unstructured conversations.
It is no wonder that students of Humanities turn out to be better communicators because of their multi-disciplinary lens. They develop the ability to inspire others with their vision and drive results. That is what research by DDI shows.
Humanities graduates struggled with business savvy and financial acumen but outperformed other degrees in many skills, and did so through strengths not only in interpersonal competencies (such as influence), but also in strong performance in results orientation and entrepreneurship. Many humanities programs incorporate debating, communicating, and critical thinking, which would contribute to well-rounded graduates in these fields.
Business education seems to leave gaps in skills that demand human interaction and working across geographies and diverse groups. The entrance examination of a B-School is such that it is hard for a non-engineer to compete. Hardly any Humanities graduates can make it past the entrance examination that is tilted in favor of quantitative skills.
It is no surprise that many of us struggle in the workplace to influence colleagues who do not report to us. Or to work with the matrix structures where power lines are fuzzy and influence lines matter.
If you are going out to hire from the campus, pick up a few who have degrees in Humanities. You may be pleasantly surprised by their ability to collaborate and work in teams. They will surprise you with their skills in storytelling. Go ahead. Give it a shot.
Abhijit Bhaduri works as the Chief Learning Officer for the Wipro group. He lives in Bangalore, India. Prior to this he led HR teams at Microsoft, PepsiCo, Colgate and Tata Steel and worked in India, SE Asia and US.
He is on the Adviso