Creative Thinkers Wanted

July 15, 2015


What do a Singapore bank, a New York medical school, and the world’s foremost business management guru have in common?  The answer might surprise you.


Tom Peters has been called “the management guru to the management gurus.” In 1982, UK’s Bloomsbury Publishing ranked his book In Search of Excellence the “greatest business book of all time.”  From 1989 to 2006, it was the most widely held book in USA libraries.


In a recent visit to Australia, Peters told the Australian Financial Review that the “key to management change” is the liberal arts.


The reason is because our ability to interact with others toward a common goal is what sets us apart from machines and will be what animates business success in the future.  According to Peters,


Business is about human beings and I believe we need more liberal arts majors in organisations. We need more artists and people who bring an emotional sensibility to an organisation …

What's more, creativity is more important than ever in an organisation. The smart algorithms are doing the easy stuff and the only thing left is something that has a design sensibility to it. The only way we can stay ahead of the algorithms is to introduce our own aesthetic dimension.


Peters’ appreciation of the creative and relational skills honed through a liberal arts education is echoed by banks in Singapore and Hong Kong that intentionally seek to hire arts graduates.  For example, a recent article reports that such graduates now make up 30% of the 2015 management associate cohort at DBS bank in Singapore. 

Why would banks hire students who didn’t major in banking or finance?  Debbie Chan, DBS’s VP of campus strategy and graduate recruitment, explains that a “broad curriculum trains arts students to think critically and creatively and to communicate effectively and persuasively. They also interact and relate well with a cross section of people.”

The value of these skills are even being recognized in the field of medicine.


Whereas medical schools typically recruit pre-med science-based majors, Mount Sinai Medical School in New York targets an additional category of student.  Through its “Hu-Med” program, which stands for Humanities in Medicine, Mount Sinai enrols arts students who major in fields like English, history or medieval studies.



 According to Dr David Muller, Mount Sinai’s Dean for Medical Education (pictured above), the program was founded on the idea that


you couldn’t be a good doctor and a well-rounded doctor and relate to patients and communicate with them unless you really had a good grounding in the liberal arts.


Muller is convinced that students can become better doctors if they train alongside people who view the same problems through different lenses.  And because they have learned the ability to learn, Mount Sinai’s arts graduates are able to enter this new discipline and hold their own:


Studies have shown that the Humanities in Medicine students are just as successful in med school as any other student.


These examples demonstrate that many companies use their own training programs to teach employees industry-specific knowledge and skills while looking to liberal arts programs to make them critical and creative thinkers, effective communicators, and empathetic team members.  That’s why the liberal arts are said to “liberate” students to pursue a broad range of pathways.


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