If you want to be an entrepreneur, what are the most important classes you can take? Business classes, right? Think again. While a background in marketing, research and development, finance, and promotion is all essential to helping your small business get off the ground, the truth is that you can learn much of that information on the job or by hiring consultants to help you set up a LLC or design a webpage with a sticky sales funnel.
However, you can’t outsource an education in the liberal arts. If you don’t take the time to study history, literature, art, and philosophy, you won’t have a foundation upon which to build your business. As the saying goes: if we do not study history, we are doomed to repeat it. But if you do take the time to study the liberal arts, you develop an enormous cultural understanding from which you can create something completely fresh and new.
Here are just two examples of how the liberal arts can influence your business:
Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to live a good life? These and the other big philosophical questions have been around since the dawn of humanity, and form the basis of nearly all religions and belief systems. Taking the time to seriously think about these questions, and understand exactly what they’re asking, helps your small business in three ways.
First, these questions help you determine what you want out of life. Maybe for you, living a good life means donating proceeds to charity, or hiring under-served populations, or increasing educational outreach. Maybe it means always having enough to provide for your family.
Second, these questions help you decide how you want to run your business. If your vision of a good life includes love and friendship, you don’t want to create a business where you and your employees are forced to work 80-hour weeks. If you view humans as stewards of the Earth, you’ll want to create a sustainable business that does not take too much from the environment.
Lastly, these questions help you develop your product. Understanding what other people want out of life helps you create something that adds to their existence and does not detract from it. A product created by a philosophical thinker does not include excess packaging or unbreakable clamshells. It is beautiful, functional, and useful.
If you look up the history of famous logos, you’ll quickly learn that the McDonalds logo, for example, uses red and yellow because these colors “subconsciously trigger hunger and/or induce excitement.” This is the sort of basic knowledge that’ll have you telling some poor graphic designer to make your logo green because it’s the color of money.
If you take the time to study the fine arts, however, you begin to get a greater understanding of how color, line, shape, texture, and perspective all work together to create an unforgettable image. Spend a semester studying the world’s great painters, and you’ll never say “let’s make it the color of money” again. Instead, you’ll be able to work with a designer to create something that truly reflects your organization’s mission and purpose.
You’ll also be able to bring that sense of artwork into your product design. Steve Jobs, of course, famously used his knowledge of calligraphy to give us Macintosh typefaces. What will your fine arts education produce?
If you don’t yet have a solid background in the liberal arts, it is time to start taking some classes. As Gwynedd Mercy University notes: students who study the liberal arts “deepen their base of knowledge, critical thinking and communication skills” and are “distinguished by professional competence as well as a deeper understanding of social responsibility and their place in the world.”
It’s hard to think of a better foundation for a budding entrepreneur.