When an organization faces the prospect of a long struggle, it's different - there is no guaranteed holiday in five months, there is no fixed cadence that assures it of two fun weeks 50 weeks hence, etc. The organization faces a much more dire truth - survive or die. Seth Godin laid out an interesting corporate evolution process today:
- Technicians who invented it, run it
- Technicians with taste, leverage it
- Artists take over from the technicians
- MBAs take over from the artists
- Bureaucrats drive the medium to banality
Organizations facing dire straits are generally well past stage 2 and usually in 4 or 5. When that happens, where do they turn to find their truth? The 4s and 5s will commission analysis, fabricate a plan to turn things around within a quarter or two to demonstrate to Wall Street that they've righted the ship. The strategy will be filled with data from quantitative and qualitative research, it will have lots of graphs and graphics, and it will answer the question - how do we turn our sow's ear into a silk purse?
But it will not have been authored by any of the 1s & 2s that found a truth, began from nothing and created a differentiated good or service that thrived. It will rather declare that the fruits of 1 & 2 were the sow's ear, and must now be re-thunk. "Our survival comes from giving them what the research and our consultants told us they want." Well... that's hard to argue, but it's also hard to show why customers will leave those that are already doing this (after all, if the market already knows what it wants, it's because it's already getting it somewhere else). It's also hard so show how your new extruded silk purse will be better than the competitions', and spark the turnaround.
The question of Making College 'Relevant' was discussed in the NY Times today. In it, liberal arts school students (and prospective students) are worried that this education won't translate into meaningful work. The schools are responding: University of Texas, Austin for example has a class called "The English Major in the Workplace," which includes reading Death of a Salesman, résumé writing and how to network. The provost at University of Michigan claims that they are too keeping up with changing times, after all - they have recently stopped offering majors in elocution and animal husbandry...
I don't know about you, but that doesn't feel like a liberal arts education anymore. It feels like schools run by, and designed to prep students to become #5s.
In five minutes of searching, I found this report that surveyed 25 Canadian employers (500k employees collectively) about the traits they seek in new hires; you can find hundreds of similar surveys - they all want the same thing:
- Ability to communicate, think, and continue to learn throughout life
- Ability to demonstrate positive attitudes and behaviors, responsibility, and adaptability
- Ability to work with others.
I also found this essay On the Purpose of a Liberal Arts Education, after extracting the religious overtones, it is about exactly the skills that employers want, as is this Michael Roth Huffington Post post, which talks about Wesleyan University's value proposition.
The Liberal Arts folk from the NY Times article are missing a rather vital point - their truth, the thing that differentiates them from others is not whether they create jobs, or whether they are able to graduate students with pretty CVs, it is that they create thinkers with broad, open minds that are able to collaborate, learn, create and communicate. Turning their schools into résumé-writing factories is moronic and beneath everything their 1s and 2s stood for.
Why not instead demonstrate how liberal arts graduates added more sustained value to an organization than others? Why not demonstrate how their students were more innovative and created more shape-changing opportunities for their employers because they had ability combined with breadth?
The truth that sparked their being oughtn't be rendered meaningless so easily. Instead they must demonstrate with conviction that there is value from such an education, that the skills they create are sought by employers, and that their students bring even more to the table. <-- This last might be where they add to their truth - helping their students develop experiences more relevant to the anticipated needs of the workplace, and using their innate abilities to document them with maximum effect.
I'm not saying that a liberal arts degree is the panacea for graduates in the next decade, what I am saying is liberal arts schools were born because their truth was clear and differentiated; by becoming yet another #4 or #5 factory, not only do they (or any other company that succumbs) become mundane, but they also concede that their very reason for being (in this case to educate) is a commodity, and they must now follow the downward spiral to low-margin, high-volume genericness.
There is no truth in that, worse, there is no good in that.