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Category: Business, Culture, Economics, Education, Entrepreneurship, Free Enterprise, History, Leadership Comments: 3

A Liberal Arts Degree Is More Valuable Than Learning Any Trade

56 year-old Rivik Ranadivé is an Indian businessman, engineer, author, speaker and philanthropist. Ranadivé is the founder and CEO of TIBCO, a multi-billion dollar real-timing computing  company, and is credited with digitizing Wall Street in the 1980s with his first company, Teknekron Software Systems.
imagesI’ve made it a lifelong habit to do things I know nothing about.
I’m a hardware engineer who started, and still runs, a billion-dollar software company.
I have a couple of degrees in engineering from MIT and a Harvard MBA.
So, if anyone is the poster child for a left-brained education, it’s me.
However, I still believe a liberal arts degree is more of an asset than learning any trade.
I believe this to be true for a handful of reasons.
The first is that whatever can be done in India and China WILL be done in India and China.
Any job that can be outsourced eventually will be, from IT to back-office medical or financial work, for a fraction of the cost.
Also, whatever can be done by a computer will be done by a computer. The people who will succeed in more expensive labor markets like the U.S. will be those who can think creatively and generate the IDEAS that will propel economic growth. Such skills are best fostered in a traditional liberal arts environment.
If anything, I think we should make the liberal arts education more rigorous. If you teach students one trade, that skill might be obsolete in a few years. But if you teach people how to think and look at lots of information and connect dots – all skills that a classic liberal education gives you – you will thrive.
Here’s an example: 70-80% of software code is the infrastructure – bring this info from here, do this, do that – while only 20% is the actual application itself. If you build applications A and B, you will need to build a bridge for them to communicate with each other – it has to be a two-way bridge.
Then, if you build application C, you will need yet another bridge for A to communicate with C and for B to communicate with C. 90% of IT budget is used to maintain these lines of communication.
This type of left-brained thinking is like saying, every person that is born [in the US] speaks their own language, so everyone in the U.S. needs to learn 300 million languages to communicate with each other.
That is highly illogical. As a hardware engineer, I knew there was a component of the computer known as the information bus. You plug cards into it and communicate throughout the interface. I thought, knowing nothing about software, why can’t there be a software bus?
It’s the equivalent to saying, let’s all just speak English and not have to learn 300 million languages. This was my big idea – an example of out-of-the-box, right-brained thinking started my company and has helped me pay my bills.
On May 26, 2010, when the market cap of Apple beat the market cap of Microsoft, that was the day in history when the right brain finally beat the left brain. This is just the beginning of the right-brain revolution.

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Comments (3)

  • Jim

    Earl Nightengale said that Albert Schweitzer was once asked (1956), “What’s wrong with men today?” His reply, “Men simply don’t think.”
    Much of what the world today terms “education” is career training. It is very narrow and highly defined and specialized. A true liberal arts education teaches a person how to think and hopefully become “a man (or woman) for all seasons”; regardlss of circumstances, a person who creates compelling value.
    As always, a great post. Thanks for sharing “your thinking”.

    November 24, 2013 at 9:51 pm
  • Chuck

    Sorry, but I think this is wrong. I have a liberal arts education, and in fact I am an education coordinator at one of the colleges within the State University of New York educational system. Yes, I also teach. Oh, and I am in the Liberal Arts Division of the college.
    My opinion is based on the fact that blue collar jobs will never go away, but the jobs done by liberal arts graduates certainly can. Does the author assume that no one in so-called “third world” countries possesses the intellectual capacity to learn the same critical thinking skills that American students gain in a liberal arts college? Such thinking is xenophobic and wrong. And what about foreign students who train here and then take that talent back to their home country?
    On the other hand, no one is going to export manual labor to overseas workers. Your highway will still need to be paved by a local blue collar worker. Your firefighters, police officers, air traffic controllers, water treatment specialists, wildlife specialists and health inspectors will still be local people…and these are jobs increasingly filled by college graduates with Applied Science and Occupational Science degrees. There are many such jobs which are seeing a surge in the representation of college graduates within the rank and file employee population.
    My position includes teaching, student advising, curriculum development, testing development, community outreach, and all of the other responsibilities that any of the other faculty or professional staff share in common. On the campus where I am employed, occupation-related degree and certificate programs continue to grow at an amazing pace; while Liberal Arts degree programs are losing enrollment.
    I respect the author’s opinion and the entitlement to express it; but my judgment and experience compel me to disagree.

    November 25, 2013 at 7:40 pm
    • Shanon Brooks

      Thanks for your response. I agree with you on one point, Mr. Ranadivé was very sparse and one dimensional in his description of liberal arts.
      I agree with the definition of liberal arts education as defined by Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins in the “Great Conversation” and a full definition of what I believe to be the liberal arts is spelled out in my white paper at this link:
      One of the greatest areas of demand in the modern workforce is that of leadership. My definition of leadership includes people who are problem-solvers, creative thinkers, and innovators. Leadership includes people who are willing to stand for something even at a financial loss. People who are communicators and those who use developed reading and writing skills to promote virtue and integrity.
      The need for these skills and their use in business and political leadership will never diminish. A liberal arts education is the best place to learn these skills in higher education, if the school is a true liberal arts school.
      Although his article was very short and less that descriptive, I would be willing to bet that Mr. Ranadivé’s definition of liberal arts is closer to the 19th century definition than that of the 21st century.

      November 25, 2013 at 8:35 pm

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