The book begins by explaining how much the liberal arts have become delegitimized in the face of algorithms and the supposed superiority of STEM majors. He then talks about the cases of famous people who have used the skills from the liberal arts to advance their careers and make life easier for everyone.
Throughout the book, however, the algorithm in computer-based technology is rarely if ever mentioned. It is only discussed in-depth in the beginning and end of the book.
Emotion is one of the major themes that Madsbjerg talks about in his book, since it is the driving factor behind many of the decisions people in the world make–specifically the ones whom businessmen and architects appeal to. He explains that empathy would be needed in Soros’ case, since he could detect whether the stock market would go down not just by the various other business leaders but also by the common population. Emotional intelligence would also be important in the hostage negotiation of Jill Carroll by jihadists, since they would cherish Iraq and the honor of her father, it was decided by veteran FBI agent Chris Voss (who also spent time in the Middle East) to let her father cajole them with how she did her journalistic duty in helping the people of Iraq.
As for reasoning, Madsbjerg gets into detail about the various forms, which include deductive (syllogistic logic), inductive (generalization), and abductive (identification and receptiveness to patterns). He argues that people who work in Big Data and Silicon Valley are solely concerned with deductive logic and make predictions accordingly, even though it becomes false. An example of this was when Google decided to create a virus containment product in collaboration with health agencies based on the search queries involving the flu, in hopes that it would prevent a pandemic. However, it did not take into account flu seasons and that people will query in massive amounts during those seasons, as opposed to any supposed pandemic. As a result, the project did not predict the H1N1 virus and ultimately failed. Madsberj argues that creative personalities are inclined towards abductive reasoning, since they have to develop a sense of receptivity in order to conceptualize any new ideas.
In terms of having epiphanies, creative people would need to have a form of receptivity by truly understanding that ideas do not come from themselves but through themselves–as Madsbjerg would put it. In this way, this eureka moments would be felt anywhere wherever there is a pattern that is about to be connected between the experiential knowledge of the creative mind and whatever they come across. In Ingels’ case, his inspiration for the unique design of the museum came from visiting the very place where the Swiss army knife was manufactured and seeing the watchmaker at work.
As a result, the social context is absolutely involved in the creative process of invention, since it ultimately dictates how and what products get made. The issue of Coca Cola selling tea was an issue in China. Even though the Chinese treatment of tea is favorable, it had a special purpose which Coca Cola had to identify. As a result of making changes, they started seeing increased consumer base in China. Another aspect of the social context in creativity is the restrictions that–in appearance–would hinder a project. Ingels proved differently when he designed his museum according to any limitations that came up, such as daylight orientation leading him to have only windows instead of walls.
The ways in which liberal arts majors cannot be taken for granted can be summed up in different points that Madsbjerg points out throughout the book:
- Contextual Analysis: This is the social aspect of creativity, since it involves understanding the context of everything around a creative professional. In which case, Ford failed to see the way that Indians and Chinese middle-class consumers use their vehicles would be completely different from the way American middle-class consumers do.
- Intuition: this is built up through experience in any field, particularly when billionaire George Soros plans on making an investment in the market at any given time that it is intended to rise. He can predict this by that feeling in his body which signals whenever it is a good or bad time to stay and invest.
- Understanding of Spatial Relationship: This is the very essence of creativity and how unique solutions to complicated problems are made, since it involves developing patterns that are not typical to the outsider’s view. This was also explained by Richard Florida as being a vital part of being a creative professional.
- Sense of Problem-Solving Direction: This is the field where even leaders like Ford CEO Mark Fields have difficulty with and it results in the companies no longer developing their appeal to their own customers around the world. This is the component of being a liberal arts majors that lead to become leaders in the financial world, such as Carl Icahn and George Soros, since they develop problem-solving skills.
He frequently mentions philosophy when it comes to the reality of a thing, specifically Heidegger. Madsbjerg discusses the thing in relation to the person when it pertains to its reality, as opposed to the other philosophical discussions at the time of Heidegger of whether they thing itself exists at all.
He is the founder of the ReD Associates, which is a consultancy composed of occupations with fields in anthropology, philosophy, and various social sciences. Because of this ethos of being a part of this company and personally advising important people, he has seen through the gaps that Big Data has failed to address.
He has helped expand company products and, throughout the book, explained how business leaders got to where they were. With Ford, Madsbjerg and others conducted field research with Ford customers in China and India to see how and when they used their vehicles. As for George Soros’ chief strategist Robert Johnson, he interviewed him and gained an insight into how Soros makes his financial decisions. He also interviewed Bjarke Ingels, a Swiss architect, when examining how he managed to design a unique museum.
Madsbjerg takes advantage of bullet points in order for the reader to visualize the concepts and philosophical precepts that he is discussing. I found this helpful since I was not expecting philosophy to enter the book as a means of explaining the decisions that people make.
As used in the title, Madsbjerg uses the word sensemaking to refer to the idea of providing meaning to abstractions.
Madsberj has the tendency to create new meanings for already existing words and names. An example is when he uses the word connoisseur to refer to the original French etymology which is “to know somebody or a place.”
Madsbjerg constantly uses the word world to refer to two different types. One refers to the world in terms of the consumer base of a company like Ford, who are devoted to buying their products that address their own needs. In the other meaning, world also means the literal cultural world outside of any company’s country of origin.
In the case of Silicon Valley, he not only uses this to refer to a place but also a mindset. That philosophy, typical of Big Data, is narrowly focused on the hard sciences and solely believes that deductive reasoning can solve any problems. This was especially seen by Madsbjerg with Martins, or people who are pretty holier-than-thou when it comes to putting the company in “a new direction” and believing that creativity can only come through rigid routine.
Real World Application
In the epilogue, Madsbjerg discusses the impact automation would have in not just blue-collar but also white-collar occupations in the future. He takes the moment to consider the importance that humans truly have, which is to create and comprehend meaning. Because of that skill, it can be transferable everywhere, either as a caretaker or as a CEO. The main issue with this is that automation is only programmed to do according to whatever the algorithm tells it to, for it is not driven by any sense of care or investment. That, ultimately, is what makes humans separate from machines. In this way, this book provides the importance in making that distinction and would become more read when that future comes.
As Madsbjerg noted earlier in the book, the number of enrollments into liberal arts programs in tertiary education has been declining. This is definitely the type of problem that influences governors to cut funding for liberal arts programs and devalues their purpose. A challenge would be to make sure that liberal arts remains relevant when this machine-dominating future arrives.
Suggest This Book To…
- Any liberal arts major who is convinced that his own major is worthless compared to a STEM major. The case studies throughout Madsbjerg’s book can show him that even the most powerful financial titans need to rely on the skills that any liberal arts major needs to.
- Any teacher in any liberal arts field working either in secondary or tertiary education, since it would help them to understand just how vital the liberal arts major is to not just creativity but innovation and problem-solving.
- Anyone who says that “liberal arts teaches shit that can be looked up on the internet.” When you hear him say that, hand him this book.
Madsbjerg, Christian. “Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of Algorithm.” Hachette. 2017.