Everything I Know I Learned From Shakespeare

Here at JLP Strategy, I love a good hallelujah chorus. And I got a loud one at the fantastic panel, "Everything I Know I Learned From Shakespeare," which tackled the relevance of the humanities for business executives. The panel was hosted by the National Endowment of the Humanities and included the following speakers:

The theme of the day was deep appreciation for the liberal arts--as a business virtue. Labatt, an English Ph.D., calls his organization "the company that Faulkner built." He spoke to the novel as a unique space for reflection on human behavior and an opportunity for slow thinking. Smith addressed the broadly applicable skills that she acquired during her undergraduate study of English, including:

  • Ability to figure things out on the fly.
  • Ability to think about things differently.
  • Capacity to understand people.
  • Skill at storytelling.
  • Patience for finding core issues.
  • Passion for mission that is rooted in history.

Both Smith and Labatt spoke to the importance of intellectual curiosity and ongoing education. To that end, Smith extolled the virtue of what she calls "free-range thinkers" who are comfortable with ambiguity, creative enough to challenge the status quo, and "wired to ask WHY."

Jared Harris, the academic on the panel, spoke to the intricate relation between ethics and strategy. Because ethics is ultimately about making decisions, he argued, ignoring ethics lends to bad decisions. As for the humanities, Harris echoed Smith and Labatt, while also connecting their observations to business ethics. The humanities, he pointed out, inform our values. 

All in all, this was a fantastic opportunity to learn how two executives put their liberal arts education to work in for-profit settings. And to confirm that recent academic work on strategy supports an ethical approach that is rooted in the wisdom of the liberal arts.

Intrigued? Check out my enrichment services to begin this work at your organization.