Liberal Arts Education And Sports Have Become Problem-Solving Skills In Corporate World

Meet Abhishek Kataria. A marketing professional with MV Altios, an MNC based in Gurgaon, Kataria has to make a decision in his team leader’s absence. Although he has never faced such situations before in his career, he is prepared. Kataria applies his training of running a football club, makes a decision, and it works. “It may sound strange, but it is true. My training in running a football club helps me in many things. It taught me discipline, time management and pacing up.”

Kataria is among the growing breed of professionals in the country who bring their passion for music, arts and sports to the workplace and use it for problem solving. For Kataria, social media marketing is very important, so are soft skills like music and dance. He illustrates the concept with an example. Suppose, someone wants to be in marketing, she has a social media account and she is using it very well to expand her sphere of influence, gaining traction and getting sponsors for her dance or music performances, or she is using her knowledge in literature. “This is hands-on training. If those people join a corporation, they would have an edge over others, because they know what they do and what they should do,” adds Kataria.

Scholars, statesmen, business gurus and leaders define liberal arts education as something which liberates the intellect from ignorance, cultural misinformation, prejudices and superstition. These forces impede mental faculties and make a person inefficient. Therefore, a student of liberal arts thinks and acts out of the box, unfettered by corporate straitjacket culture.

Sports, too, is considered part of liberal arts kinship. These days, many universities in the West offer study programs for sports majors. Competitive sports help train both body and mind. “It adds persistence, team spirit and dedication,” says Kataria.

Sometimes, situations one faces in a corporate setup can be more tricky. “No management training course can prepare you for that,” says Bakshinder Bhatia, an MBA in marketing and a former journalist. “Training in liberal arts opens up your mind. If you had read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, you would know Marcus Brutus, the Roman general, who was one of the conspirators against Caesar. This is a story of betrayal. So, you are ready for unavoidable office politics, which you may or may not have to face. But literature would help you to sense that and devise a defense.”

According to Bhatia, literature has groomed him immensely. He very well understands cerebral subjects like international politics and the political economy of India. “All this helps in my professional life. One wouldn’t feel trapped or enslaved until the person can assess what is happening in the world around and all her mental faculties are sound,” he adds.

Now, it is a widely accepted phenomenon that candidates must possess soft skills like problem-solving, adaptability and creative thinking, among others.

Like popularity in college depends on how good one is in other curricular activities, in a corporate setup, one can stand out if she has other talents, like singing, acting, writing and so on. “It gives a person somewhat soft power,” says Aman Rawat, a business development executive at an edutech company. “In a corporate setup, a cordial relationship with team members is very important. So, the training in liberal arts helps us build that rapport.” He goes on to add, “It also helps in getting a job. If a person is aware of what is happening around and has a sound knowledge of literature, or any field of her interest, that person has more chances of landing a good and high-paying job.”

Outlook reached out to several people who have done MBAs and are working in a corporate setup. They believe that being good in art, literature, music and sport helps hone their skills in professional life, too. As earlier alluded to, Kataria ran a football club in Delhi that trained him in marketing, even as it imbued leadership skills in him. “Most of my learning comes from my training while running that club. When you run a club, it is somewhat like running a business—you need marketing, you need new recruits who will play for you, you need financial support,” Kataria says.

Learning liberal arts empowers individuals and prepares professionals to deal with constant change, complexity and diversity. It also helps inculcate a sense of social responsibility, while building other skill sets required in a professional setup: communication, creative thinking, problem-solving and transferable intellect and their applicability in real-world settings.

This is why many MBA courses these days focus on the liberal arts. Now, it is a widely accepted phenomenon that candidates must possess soft skills like problem-solving, adaptability and creative thinking, among others. Liberal art courses are considered to be foundational to train professionals in these skills. “You see advertisements today, you see brand campaigns—everything requires a social outlook. If you stereotype someone, if you are racist, it will affect your job prospects. One must have at least some empathy and understanding to excel, which was not the case earlier,” adds Rawat.

The job market, too, is changing fast. “The old paradigm has shifted,” says Bhatia. “Now you have machines to replace humans to work efficiently.” So, what is required of a human being is also changing. People who have more value are those who possess soft skills, who can work with machines and humans with equal ease and who can manage stress. Traditional MBA courses have so far been focusing on analysis and techniques. The new courses are teaching approaches like design thinking, a set of cognitive, strategic and practical approaches, which keep humans at the core in order to understand how they think. For that, training in liberal arts is pertinent.

“We have history and events that took place which can teach us a lot, like the story of the fall of Lehman Brothers and the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States. It tells you a lot about the financial system of this world and how companies are susceptible to crises like these,” says Aditya Agnihotri, who works with Amazon. According to him, for a person who has studied only science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it would be tough to foresee and deal with such crises.

(This appeared in the print edition as “Liberating Human Intellect”)


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