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The Value Of Liberal Arts: Keeping Your Job From A Robot

The Value Of Liberal Arts: Keeping Your Job From A Robot
Liberal arts degrees provide graduates with the skills they need to move into jobs that won’t be replaced by robots. Photo by Andrea Vallejos.

Daniel Pink (2006) begins his book A Whole New Mind by asserting:

“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBA’s who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.” (p. 1)

Pink (2006, p.26) acknowledges that our cerebral hemispheres work in tandem, but that the contrast in how they operate yields a helpful metaphor for how individuals and organizations navigate their lives. He describes L-Directed Thinking (i.e. literal, functional, analytic, etc.) and R-Directed Thinking (i.e. simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual, synthetic, etc.) and asserts that people who are more holistic R-Directed Thinkers are going to be the real movers and shakers in the future. He describes the importance of six essential aptitudes: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.

The aptitudes that Pink highlights are the capacities that liberal arts programs help develop. The arts can build an appreciation for – as well as skill-sets around – being creative, playful, deep. Via the liberal arts, students become familiar with numerous disciplines that can address both the creative and analytical spheres of life. The resulting learning experiences give students a greater scope of awareness and sensitivity that will be helpful to them as they navigate a rapidly changing world. They will be able to speak to a greater variety of topics – without intimidation or trepidation.

To briefly wrap up Pink’s side of things, Pink warns against finding yourself in a job that can easily be outsourced – especially to computers or to robots.

While Friedman (2011), in his article How did the robot end up with my job?, doesn’t use the word outsourced*, he also addresses the increasingly-common occurrence whereby “robots, microchips and software-guided machines” are doing the work once done by humans**. Friedman’s perspectives are highly relevant and worth your time. See the list of articles below if you want to learn more about how Friedman and others view robotics and artificial intelligence and how these areas are affecting the workplace.

Liberals arts programs not only help students develop the skill-sets to design robots, program software, and think analytically – but they can also help students identify and develop their creativity. In other words, liberal arts programs can help develop both the L-Directed and R-Directed Thinking that Pink (2006) was referring to.

In a future posting, I hope to address the issues and challenges that have resulted from the increased price of obtaining a liberal arts degree. But for today, the point of this posting is to make a case for the value of a liberal arts degree – as of 2012, such a degree still provides a solid, lifelong, return on investment and it helps students develop both “sides” of their brains.

Here’s to the flexibility that thinking from both the left and from the right sides of our brains bring us; may this flexibility help us successfully navigate our futures.

—– Footnotes

* Friedman asserts: “The term ‘outsourcing’ is also out of date. There is no more ‘out’ anymore. Firms can and will seek the best leaders and talent to achieve their goals anywhere in the world.

** Friedman gave a talk at LinkedIn’s inDay Speaker Series last fall that addresses such important changes in the global workplace.

—– Also see:

Foxconn to replace workers with 1 million robots in 3 years. (2011, July 30). In Retrieved from

Friedman, T. L. (2011, October 1). How did the robot end up with my job?. In The New York Times. Retrieved from

Friedman, T. L. (2011, October 20). inDay Speaker Series with Thomas Friedman . In LinkedIn. Retrieved from

Hsu, J. (2011, September 12). Robot Financial Workers to Replace Human Traders, Report Says. In Innovation News Daily. Retrieved from

Moyer, E. (2011, September 11). IBM’s Watson to offer medical advice to doctors. In CNET. Retrieved from

Pink, D. (2006). A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York, NY: The Berkeley Publishing Group.

Robots Mania. (n.d.). In The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Shankland, S. (2012, March 20). The robots are coming! Better get used to it. In Retrieved April 25, 2012, from

Simonite, T. (2011, August 23). Seeing the Future of the Office Internet. In Technology Review. Retrieved from

Tara LaCapra, L. (n.d.). Goldman To Fire Employees Who Can Be Replaced By Technology, Miss Performance Targets . In The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 19, 2012, from .