Are Data-Driven, Lean Approaches Impeding American Innovation?

Political leaders and captains of industry in the U.S. like to paint America as a land of opportunity based on a simple premise: work hard, be somewhat ingenious, and you will have the chance to do well. Easy as all-American pie. Of course, things are more complicated in practice, but the straightforwardness of this simple message points to a penchant for individualism that underlies many aspects of our society, and which evolved into its present state far more recently than many Americans suspect. At its best, the cultivation of this quality entails a sense of responsibility and self-awareness that are not as natural to many other cultures. At its worst, putting the individual above all else has resulted in forms of self-interest—and a misguided belief that any policies helping those faced with challenges we do not share verge on socialism—that go against many of the founding fathers’ reasoned principles. The second facet of this phenomenon is a relatively new interpretation of American values that may in fact have been encouraged by a form of active engagement that has had unforeseen consequences. … Read More Are Data-Driven, Lean Approaches Impeding American Innovation?

Forward-Thinking Organizations Value the Humanities

I recently considered the fate of public intellectuals in the digital era, concluding that their evolution was closely tied to a number of societal shifts. One of these is the perceived, and oft discussed, crisis in the study of the humanities. Are the humanities still relevant? Do they matter, outside of a purely theoretical context and beyond the confines of the college classroom? These sorts of doubts are reflective of broader tendencies in the way we view our world, such as the rather primitive question of what qualities we consider essential for the workforce that allows society to function. In the knowledge economy, observers of the job market for college graduates and even seasoned professionals will have noticed a pattern emerging at the most basic level: where employers once sought well-rounded candidates with strong ethics and critical thinking skills, terms like “results-driven,” “entrepreneurial” and “quantitative” have now become commonplace in job descriptions. Not so frightening on their own, these words are part of a linguistic choice that reflects the competitive demands of the marketplace, and some of the resulting shortsighted choices that tend to underestimate the advantages of an education grounded in the humanities.

Society can easily understand the benefits of learning financial accounting, statistical software manipulation and business modeling, but is less comfortable with what it regards as the more intangible qualities cultivated by the humanities and, to some extent, the social sciences. … Read More Forward-Thinking Organizations Value the Humanities