A Surprising Way to Improve Your Business Acumen

October 21, 2011 · Leave a Comment 

Those who aspire to the highest echelons of business-dom are likely to be surprised at the advice of several leaders in business thought, such as Henry Mintzberg, Karl Moore, Warren Bennis and James O’Toole. They recommend that new leaders of the worlds’ industries should not single-mindedly focus on typical skills taught in business school – but to read a little bit more literature, travel some more, and overall just become more “worldly”, as opposed to “global”. Broadening your outlook is an essential practice for modern day business people.

Why it is Better to be Educated and Worldly Than Well-Trained and Global

Drew Hansen, a business writer, puts it well, “the worldly person seeks out diversity as a way to enhance his understanding of other cultures while adding nuance and appreciation to his inherited background… The global person, on the other hand, conforms to an emerging singular culture.” According to him, and many others, a broader perspective and outlook will make leaders more prepared to detect and act upon both crises and opportunities.

One of the most well-known examples of an executive endorsing the pursuit of the humanities, in an effort to broaden business people’s minds, occurred 61 years ago in the Bell Telephone company. The president at the time was W.D. Gillen. He saw his rising entrepreneurial stars too narrow-minded and worried about their capability in taking over the company. He, in an effort to educate them and illustrate the importance of flexibility and a broader mind-set, established the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives. It was an intensive 10-month program in which executives had a crash-course on the humanities and finer arts. Although the program didn’t last, the reasons and support for its existence continued in the minds of many business leaders. Sociologist E. Digby Baltzell put it this way, “a well-trained man knows how to answer questions, they reasoned; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.”

A Continuing Mentality

Some successful business leaders continue to follow this mentality, such as Bain & Company’s current chairwoman, Orit Gadiesh. She stated in an interview with Harvard Business School: “I love to read. I read about 100 books a year on a wide variety of subjects. I’m just interested in everything…In my mind, one of the things that helped me is to become what I call an expert generalist. I bring into my work everything I do, all of my past consulting projects, all of my readings. I read novels. I read about physics, mathematics, history, biographies, art…I bring all of that somehow into my work. And I think that makes me better at what I do. It also makes life more interesting.”

Read Hansen’s article about it here.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!