A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to spend some time with a fellow traveler. It was one of those airport conversations. He was on his way to Taipei and we were both killing time in SFO.

When I asked him what he did for a living, and he said he was a consulting engineer. His primary job, when working with engineering teams from around the world, was to help them “connect the dots on things.”

“Dot connecting,” he said, “is the essential skill. It is not about technology. Rather, it is about helping people who have been deeply trained in technology to think laterally.

“So many of these people cannot see outside their discipline. The problems they are trying to solve, and the answers they seek, are cross-, even multi-disciplinary.”

He went on to say that he was not an engineer himself. Rather, he had a BA in philosophy and had a master’s degree in creative writing.

The more the man talked and the more I listened, the more I realized that he was making an extremely compelling case for the liberal arts. However, his focus was not on the liberal arts per se, but rather what you can do when you have been grounded in the liberal arts. He was talking about attitudes, aptitudes, and skillsets like critical thinking, communicating, problem solving and, well, connecting the dots.

Just before he queued up for his plane he said something really interesting. “Technical skills,” he said, “age quickly. What I do, problem solving, never does.”

Before he left I asked him where he attended school. He replied, “A great little liberal arts college in Ohio.” I’m pretty familiar with Ohio and asked, “Granville?” He smiled and nodded.

It is pretty clear, based on the number of problems facing our country and world that problem solving is a growth industry, and equipping graduates to solve those problems is one of the things that a liberal arts college does best.

Sadly, much of society just doesn’t get it. The confusion and wariness about the liberal arts appear to be intractable. So many arguments for the liberal arts seem, at times, to be long on verbiage and short on facts.

The big exception is the campaign put together by the Council of Independent Colleges. The Council has done an outstanding job collecting data and presenting it in a clear and cogent fashion. And perhaps what’s best, they undertook this project not as a commitment to its members, but as a commitment to the liberal arts. The materials they assembled—and they are considerable—are available to everyone. Here’s the link: http://www.cic.edu/Research-and-Data/Liberal-Arts/Campaign/Pages/default.aspx.

I strongly encourage you to take a look. You will be both impressed and energized. And who knows, perhaps the materials will help connect the dots for a young woman or man who is considering a liberal arts education.

About the author