Gustavo Ballvé on June 22nd, 2010
Education, Food for thought, Home, Industries, Mental models

“A well-trained man knows how to answer questions, (…) an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.”

This NY Times article tells a great story: In 1952, Bell Telephone leaders felt that they needed “more employees capable of guiding the company rather than simply following instructions or responding to obvious crises.” They asked the University of Pennsylvania to elaborate a course for their “rising stars”, and Humanistic studies were heavy in the program so that the technical-minded execs could be exposed to different, mind-opening experiences – which culminated in the reading and discussing of the James Joyce book “Ulysses”.

This concern was new in 1952 and it’s “common sense” today, but the author says that we need leaders who can think for themselves now more than ever. Without talk of incentives this is more a homage to the benefits of a diverse and continuous education than it is a valid “diagnosis” of today’s leaders’ conduct. Still, that is a worthy enough point.

But let’s go back to the article and the program devised for the Learning Knights of Bell Telephone Co. After the program ended, one of the graduates said that “before the program he had been ‘like a straw floating with the current down the stream'(…)”. It’s a way to say that after the program he felt like someone in control of his career, or at least aware of much more than before (which in the 50’s had a different consequence than one would have imagined). The graduates’ knowledge and analytical boundaries had been pushed, pulled and “stressed” and, as a consequence, expanded.

The NY Times Op-Ed contributor, Wes Davis, closes the article with this paragraph “As the worst economic crisis since the Depression continues and the deepening rift in the nation’s political fabric threatens to forestall economic reform, the values the program instilled would certainly come in handy today. We need fewer drifting straws on the stream of American business, and more discontented thinkers who listen thoughtfully to both sides of our national debates. Reading “Ulysses” this Bloomsday may be more than just a literary observance. Think of it as an act of fiscal responsibility.”

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