When young people study the Arts and Humanities, they can prepare themselves in deep, untold and currently unappreciated ways for a successful business life.
The Arts: Every art involves complexity and mastery, two of the deepest features of any highly accomplished business life. We can think of a painting as a solution to a problem—or better yet, as thousands of solutions to thousands of problems. When it embodies Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Unity, it succeeds best. And this is true of a business, or a business deal. The same is also true of a piece of music, a dance, or a sculpture. Art hones many intellectual qualities and personal traits like perseverance in the pursuit of perfection, or even happy imperfection.
The Humanities: Let's begin with what's broadly called literature, encompassing poetry and prose, short stories, essays, and novels. Let's even throw in the best of film. When we study great literature, we can prepare ourselves for deeply satisfying business success. First, in reading well-told stories, we learn to tell stories well. And there's nothing more important in business life than telling powerful stories about what we're doing, want to do, and can possibly do. One famous film producer, Peter Guber, has said in his delightful book "Tell to Win" that during his career, whenever he went into a meeting with facts and figures, he never got what he wanted, but whenever he showed up with a great story, he got everything he wanted and more. Secondly, we come to understand character more deeply through the lens of a masterful story. Great literature is full of cautionary tales for leaders and high achievers: Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Don Quixote, Frankenstein, Moby Dick, and Jack London's Sea Wolf, among many others. And in these tales of greatness and tragedy, we see the truth of what Heraclitus said long ago, "Character is Destiny."
History: Of course the lessons here are obvious. The long-term link between character and excellence throughout the course of our world up to now, The Law of Unintended Consequences, from even the most modest decisions, the balance of risk and reward that attends any bold action, the inevitable mess that arises from wild interventionism, and the catastrophes that democracy is intended to prevent.
Psychology: Coming more deeply to understand what motivates people just might be the most important key to business success. It's crucial for forming more positive relationships, building a great business culture, and diagnosing what can go wrong between people. The recent turn to positive psychology has provided us with new tools for excellence in everything we do.
Philosophy: As a philosopher, what can I say? When young people encounter the best of world philosophy, they learn about belief and skepticism, appearance and reality, love and purpose, evidence and folly, wisdom and virtue. They prepared themselves for a deeper and more lasting form of success in whatever they do. And the same is true for older people. The more we learn the insights of the great practical philosophers and use them relentlessly, the better we can be at anything we do. The truth of this has been on display in the talks I've given to business groups over the years, at this point far surpassing a thousand. One company has had me speak more than sixty-five times, offering me for each of those hours more than my annual salary once was at Notre Dame. Why would any business do such a thing? Because of the fact that they see the great value of philosophy. You can't have a great business without great philosophical foundations.