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How do the humanities impact business?

February 08, 2013

In a complex business world where data analysis and marketing are highly valued skills, how do humanities coincide with and give individuals a leg up on the competition? Humanities at Arizona State University are taking a closer look at this question to decide what the future of business holds.

Robert Mittelstaedt, dean emeritus of ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business, feels that educators must combine business ethics and the humanities to produce graduates who will excel in their fields.

“For business majors, we try to ensure a healthy mix of hard-core business subjects and general studies that will help students build the base that will lead them to success – but it is only a start. We all have to keep learning more about the humanities and business over our lifetime,” he said.

Equally important, he notes, is the ability to communicate. When dealing with other businesses, customers and even employees, it is vital to have empathy, strong leadership and motivational skills to grow and prosper as a company and individual.

“I do not know a single highly successful business person who cannot: communicate effectively; analyze and deal with complexity; understand what motivates employees and customers; make decisions and take action; and challenge and lead others to success they never imagined they could achieve,” said Mittelstaedt.

But what about the tools we use to communicate? Is technology overrunning the need for humans in business?

Brian Johnson, corporate futurist for Intel, feels that while technology used in business is getting “smarter” and more powerful, humans are still needed for their humanistic qualities that computers cannot replicate.

“Emotional intelligence and cognitive synthesis are and will be an increasingly more important part of our business and economic lives. As we begin to offload more work to computers and machines, it will force us to focus on these humanistic qualities,” said Johnson.

Johnson says that as we build these technologies, we have to keep in mind the type of world we want to have. He says that is important to understand the cultural, legal, human and ethical impact of the devices.

What do you think? What is the place for the humanities in business? Join the conversation online now at