“Liberal arts in the workplace” by Maria L. Balmaceda (November 9, 2009)

How employees can appreciate knowledge for its own sake
SUITS THE C-SUITE By Maria L. Balmaceda
Business World (11/09/2009)

The corporate world is teeming with exceptional people armed with graduate degrees and technical know-how that may eventually land them in the C-Suite.

Specialists and technocrats will continue to dominate companies, and there is no question that continuous learning is necessary for one to remain relevant in his or her job. This is why many companies invest so much in training.

However, training need not be all technical. For companies that want to broaden the minds of their people beyond their specialization, training in the liberal arts can and will open new avenues for learning.

The liberal arts refer broadly to academic disciplines like literature, history, philosophy, languages, mathematics, and the social sciences that are sources of information on culture. The liberal arts are called “liberal,” specifically because they liberate one from narrowness of outlook. They are also referred to as the “humanities,” because they make us more humane in improving our adaptability, understanding, resourcefulness, and wisdom with regard to our environment.

The objectives of a liberal arts program in a company are:
to expose employees to as many non work-related topics as possible;
to round out the education of a professional; and
to make professionals appreciate knowledge for its own sake and as an end in itself — so as to make the person much more than a one-dimensional professional.

Because the primary purpose of the liberal arts is to seek understanding, a person immersed in them is better equipped to understand, for example, the relation between the problem of immortality of the soul and the problem of the best form of government; or that one problem cannot be solved by the same method as another problem. A liberal arts background will help a person better understand the distinctions and interrelations among subject matters; the differences and connections between poetry and history, science and philosophy, theoretical and practical science; that the same methods cannot be applied to these fields; and what method is appropriate for each field. A liberally educated individual would know what is meant by the soul, state, God, beauty, truth and other terms that are basic to the discussion of fundamental issues — issues that may very well be taken up in board rooms.

Liberal studies develop certain qualities and habits of thinking. Best of all, they lead to new attitudes and insights.

One may argue that looking at sculptures and paintings may not bring about a change in one’s ability to balance the books, or to comprehend the workings of capital markets. While it is true that liberal studies do not have easily measurable effects, they do have an intrinsic influence on a person’s professional conduct and job performance. The liberal arts ultimately teach people about order, temperance, openness, compassion and inspiration — crucial elements that create a well-rounded professional and individual.

SGV & Co. has been running a Liberal Arts Program since 1999 to further enhance and balance the skills of its nearly 2,500 employees. Through their exposure to the liberal arts, SGV professionals are expected to be able to converse with their clients on other topics or disciplines besides accounting, tax or business risks. The program provides lectures, film showings, mini concerts, poetry reading and day tours to museums and other places of interest. Authorities in their respective fields are invited to share their passions in the different art and literary forms — a challenge considering an audience composed mainly of audit and tax professionals.
Participants in the Liberal Arts Program gain new insights on diverse and divergent topics — alternative medicine, classical music, Chinese philosophy, Japanese drama, architecture, television, photography, mathematics appreciation, literary criticism and so much more.

The program is also not as esoteric as it may sound because it is designed to enrich and enhance talents in more practical terms such as wine tasting, crafts making, and even generation XYZ concerns such as a literary analysis of Harry Potter or the ethics of blogging.

What is important is that in the end, the employee gains another competence to be added to his or her skills set.

Professionals (accountants for example) work within parameters that are exact. The knowledge they already have must be adequate to aid them in their regular tasks.

However, the requirements for success are no longer that predictable as, more and more, there is need to interact with people other than one’s coworkers. It is in this interaction where an immersion in the liberal arts may spell the difference between a competent individual and a learned person.

Exposure to the liberal arts cultivates a deeper comprehension, appreciation and understanding of a wide range of subjects. It enables a person to develop opinions and ideas beyond what is predictable. It gives a person authority, confidence and credibility. It allows a person to form relevant opinion about issues that can influence others. It helps a person acquire a more holistic view of the world.

In learning more about the liberal arts, a Filipino professional becomes more attuned to what really matters in the world by taking time to appreciate what life has to offer. The liberal arts teach us not just about life, but also how to lead more meaningful lives.

(Maria L. Balmaceda is a Senior Director of SGV & Co.)

This article was originally published in the BusinessWorld newspaper. It is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.