Making the Case for Humanities (or Marketing the Humanities) 
by Chiqui Escareal-Go

When we talk about humanities, arts and social sciences in the context of education or industry– what comes to mind are intangible courses that have no clear track especially after graduation, compared with degrees in business, natural sciences, or engineering, which are perceived to be more practical when it comes to employment.

Herein lies the challenge of the humanities in this day and age where schools are pressured to produce graduates who are employable or whose customers (parents, students, industry and community) have specific yet varied expectations of what the schools should provide as necessary skills for the 21st century.

As an educator myself in the field of marketing and entrepreneurship, and as a student of the social sciences, I am firm believer of the importance of the humanities in business – especially in the areas of communication, insighting, consumer understanding, product development, and design and innovation, not to mention its more encompassing role in the formation of productive citizens and leaders with critical thinking skills and integrity.

Did I just say something abstract again in making the case for humanities?

Let’s then discuss a more familiar marketing effort of recent times – the viral ads of Jollibee. What skill or talent do you think was able to put that together?  That ability to tell a story, to express a theme that connects with target markets, to communicate in a way that touches the heart and to make it share-worthy….

Or take the 1995 interview of Steve Jobs with ComputerWorld.  Jobs talked about the digital origins of Pixar – which started when George Lucas wanted to “clean” the analog optical copies to remove the noise and bad quality of the visuals in their work (such as Star Wars).  The digital transformation into high end digital computer graphics was a technological advancement in software development.  Yet Jobs also had another plan for Pixar – that beyond the digital revolution that was imminent, their other vision was “to tell stories, to make real films”.  Thus was born the critically acclaimed and top-grossing Toy Story, considered one of the best-animated films of all time.

In another case for the humanities, authors of Harvard Business Review article entitled “An Anthropologist Walks Into a Bar” (Madsbjerg and Rassumen, 2014) shared how conventional research and analytical tools were not able to solve the declining sales of a brewing company.  They noted that despite available data, which can predict a customer’s next purchases based on a pattern, they couldn’t know why the customer made that decision. The company sent a team of anthropologists to the bars to observe the patrons as they would observe tribes in Borneo.  They found many patterns that included how promotional items that are valued by pub owners cannot be one-size-fits-all or that the female servers who were the “main channels for sales” did not know much about the products and had low morale.  Subsequent actions on these ethnographic observations and recommendations resulted to a turnaround of the business.

The authors also presented a study by IBM on what CEOs perceive as their next biggest challenge in leadership and they identified this as the “complexity gap” with  “a lack of customer insight as their biggest deficit in managing complexity”.

Last February 2017, our alumni chapter at De La Salle University launched the 1st Conversations in Liberal Arts (CLA) Forum* and  invited Ateneo vice president for the Loyola Schools Dr. Marlu Vilches for a talk on the Relevance of the Humanities in an Increasingly Business-oriented and Technological Society.

In that talk, Dr. Vilches (who was also former dean of Ateneo’s School of Humanities), noted the “perceived irrelevance” of the humanities in today’s society that prioritizes economic pursuits that are science- and technology-led, especially in the academe’s curriculum, plus in my point of view, in some industries’ profiling of talent for employment.

Dr. Vilches shared more interesting points raised by the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences at the US Congress particularly the following:
•    The humanities and social sciences provide an intellectual framework and context for understanding and thriving in a changing world. When we engage with these subjects, we learn not only what but how and why.
•    The ability to adapt and thrive in a changing world is based not only on instruction for specific jobs of today but also on the development of professional flexibility and long-term qualities of mind: inquisitiveness, perceptiveness, the ability to put a received idea to a new purpose, and the capacity to share and build ideas with others.
•    The humanities and social sciences teach us about ourselves and others. They enable us to participate in a global economy that requires understanding of diverse cultures and sensitivity to different perspectives. And they make it possible for people around the world to work together to address issues of mutual importance, such as peace and sustainability.
•    The humanities remind us where we have been and help us envision where we are going. Emphasizing critical perspective and imaginative response, the humanities—including the study of languages, literature, history, film, civics, philosophy, religion, and the arts—foster creativity, appreciation of our commonalities and our differences, and knowledge of all kinds.

In the same talk, Dr. Vilches mentioned that the “crisis of the humanities is largely situated in the academe.”  To market the humanities then, it would help for reframing of lenses and for opening minds for collaborations among our institutions.

For the academe,   it would help to be aware of what the “market” out there needs, to customize its courses as well as ways of communicating when presenting what it can offer.  Madsbjerg and Rassumen, 2014, noted “Most people in business associate the human sciences—anthropology, sociology, political science, and philosophy—with academia, and for good reason. The work of scholars in these fields is notoriously difficult to understand, and the insights they offer often seem to have little practical relevance in business.”

And so the humanities must make itself accessible by providing the tools and framework that can be applied, and by communicating its usefulness and relevance in business.

This is how I would like to present the case for humanities or how to “promote” its relevance or importance today -  by foregrounding such cases where the humanities and social sciences are successfully and naturally used together with business and technology.  We need to showcase best practices of collaborations between the soft and hard sciences.  This will entail developing courses that are relevant to industry -  where humanities is presented to be an important tool for business sense-making and where business sense must be taught in the humanities track, to produce creative outputs that are viable and sustainable.

Being exposed to multi-disciplines and being interdisciplinary in engagements would be a good place to start for both proponents of the humanities and business.  Be reminded again what skill or talent will be needed to get that insight to turnaround a failing beer business or to create that next, bigger viral video.
 
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Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Service Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., the only advocacy-based training and consultancy firm focused on marketing, sales, strategy and innovation. For more details, email
info@mansmith.net