“Liberal arts sensibilities” required by businesses

I read a couple of things in today’s Australian Financial Review that I felt like sharing. They quoted business management guru (their phrase) Tom Peters in an article entitled ‘Liberal arts sensibility adds human touch‘. Particularly interesting for us designerly types were the following:

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

“…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.”

Across the page from this piece was an article about the impact of data analytics citing “6 per cent higher profits” for organisations that focus on data-driven decision-making. Now 6 per cent isn’t to be sniffed at, but it put me in mind of various studies into the success of design-led companies – most seem to agree that design-led companies outperform other companies by over 200% (see http://www.dmi.org/?DesignValue and Design Council Value of Design).

If the data analytics people want to play numbers (which surely they will), the suggestion seems to be that being design led is the way to go. Analytics is comforting to businesses because it feels solid, but it also encourages an incrementalism and timidity in bolder decision-making – and that is the last thing many established businesses can require.

Do the designerly thing to lead and inform significant change and then use the data to prove the impact of the change. It is easy to confuse the two – and most businesses appear to have done so over the last 20 to 30 years.

Analysis jungle