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Books and articles that matter

By Dean Andy Boynton

On Monday we graduated our newest class. I’m prepared to say that they’ll make excellent bankers, marketers, accountants, and organizational leaders. I’m also prepared to say that they are critical thinkers, educated in business and the liberal arts. As Stanford French professor Dan Edelstein argues in a recent article in Liberal Education, the humanities provide students with the best opportunities for learning how to be innovative.

In “How is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy,” Edelstein cites articles by a sociologist, a physicist, and an engineer who contend that humanistic training cultivates entrepreneurial and inventive thought.

Edelstein’s view is that classes in the humanities compel students to practice innovative thinking. The nature of the liberal arts, he says, is that it is made up of perceptions, arguments, and abstract concepts that are subject to interpretation. Using history as an example, he notes that students of history are expected to “develop original arguments about reasons, motivations, and outcomes for the past.” This process, Edelstein says, teaches lessons and habits of mind that are of value beyond the humanities—and I agree.

Our nation’s economy, as we are all painfully aware, can no longer be fueled mainly by manufacturing; our future will be determined by the quantity and quality of the ideas we produce. In order to prepare the patent-creators and value-builders on which our future success will rely, we would do well to examine academic disciplines with Edelstein’s eye toward distinguishing among those that result in “reproducing knowledge,” and those that lead to “transforming knowledge.”

Disciplines that contribute to the latter, such as the humanities, are necessary complements to management education. Without them, business schools are merely training, not educating, students.