In Fareed Zakaria’s new book In Defense of a Liberal Education (W.W. Norton and Company 2015), he makes clear that while a liberal arts degree may not directly help you to be an engineer or a scientist, it will make you better than others at the most important skills every leader needs for success.
“Success comes from creating interesting thinkers who can encourage synergy and be creative,” says Zakaria, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. He makes a strong case that a classic liberal arts degree teaches you how to think, how to learn, and most importantly how to write.
Since degrees in liberal arts and humanities have dropped significantly as of late, I asked Zakaria in a recent interview if he thought that those with narrow degrees like finance and engineering could find a way to compensate and be more successful leaders. Here are Zakaria’s direct insights about the four paths he suggested.
1. Follow your intellectual curiosity.
Zakaria explains that a liberal education is about following your intellectual curiosity, whatever you do. He suggests that if you are interested in a subject, get into it more deeply. Zakaria says:”Go further than Wikipedia. Talk to real experts. Read books. You will develop an understanding of what real knowledge looks like. It is more than just web surfing, and being a consumer of stuff. Going deep helps you develop the ability to become a producer of stuff. It feeds your ability to do that through your entire life.”
Zakaria suggests exploratory activity.”Going through a great museum feeds you in a different way than reading a book, listening to music, or dealing with a challenge at work. If you feed all of the different parts of your mind and your spirit, you can make all kinds of different connections. Learn to enjoy the process.”
2. Pay attention to good writing.
Zakaria believes (and I agree) that writing is at the core of communication, especially in today’s electronic environment. Good writers can sell ideas and sell themselves. Great leaders must be able to communicate well in order to get people to listen to them. Zakaria describes in his book the writing process that Jeff Bezos demands from Amazon executives: Bezos makes them write multi-page detailed narratives when submitting proposals or opinions. Zakaria argues that unlike verbal communication, writing doesn’t allow logical gaps or lack of clarity. Zakaria emphatically states: “Learn to write! Read all the time and ask yourself what makes something good writing.”
3. Learn how to interact with people.
Zakaria makes the case that a liberal arts education better teaches interpersonal interaction. Zakaria describes it best: “We don’t think of [interpersonal connection] as part of a liberal education, but it is. College is inherently social. You take part in classes and in extra-curricular activities. It doesn’t seem like learning, but learning to work in teams and interact with other people is crucial. I asked the CEO of Time Warner, ‘What is the skill that is most valuable in business that doesn’t get taught in a classroom?’ He said teamwork. Making people want to work with you. That explains why some people get promotions, or funding, etc., and other people don’t.”
Read more at INC.