Commonalities between humanities and business: stories

Drawing a plot line or a sales chart?

Here are two types of people: the humanities major, the one who loves ideas, literature, philosophy and art criticism, the artistry of music, the fascination with song, dance and poetry. Then there’s the business major, who is typically portrayed in a suit, filled with ideas to grow the business, obsessed with numbers, solely oriented towards profit and increasing market share, and engaged in endless presentations detailing graphs and charts in all kinds and forms.

Initially they seem to live in two different worlds. Some universities even place these majors at different sides of the campus– north or south, east or west. In college they are not often seen together, and they have preconceived notions of the other– “that English major has her head in the clouds, that business major only cares about making money.”

However, there are multiple similarities that these two types share. Perhaps the most striking one is their love for ideas and storytelling. The humanities major loves to look at things from different angles, to critically reason why an argument came to a certain conclusion, to analyze the elements, situation and context of the story. The business major loves to look at things from different standpoints for each stakeholder, to critically examine the line of logic in a strategy, to analyze the facts, reports and positions concerning an initiative. There’s a few parallels to draw from here– both share the need to communicate ideas and the art of storytelling is the means to do that. In business, where work at times can be banal and dry, we need to be inspired– storytelling allows us those moments of inspiration even (or especially) in the context of a high-stakes meeting or heated discussion.

Essentially, there aren’t two different types, and when we start to think of people as more similar than different, we empathize with them. We understand where they’re coming from. And we realize, they are really like us. We are one and the same: social beings with the seek to connect. Beyond survival, beyond need, beyond validation — stories help us bond. They help us see causes and reasons behind particular events, and help us understand them better. When stories resonate with us and between us, they can inspire us to action, even collective action. When we understand the great power that stories have, we are motivated to learn how to become better storytellers to guide others from the beginning when we lay down our main ideas along with the facts and building blocks, to the end when we reiterate our primary point and look to the future for next steps.


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