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Value of the Humanities in the Marketplace

View from Market Street in San Francisco

These highly successful executives, entrepreneurs and policy makers offer words of wisdom about the practical value of studying the humanities.

“I think maybe the best education, or the best foundation for business is probably reading Shakespeare, rather than reading some MBA program out of some great business school. I think I'd rather have an English major than an economics major.”

— Michael Eisner, CEO Walt Disney Productions

“The most valuable class I took at Stanford was not Econ 51. It was a graduate seminar called, believe it or not, "Christian, Islamic and Jewish Political Philosophies of the Middle Ages... 

“The philosophies and ideologies themselves certainly left an impression on me. But the rigor of the distillation process, the exercise of refinement, that's where the real learning happened. It was an incredible, heady skill to master. Through the years, I've used it again and again--the mental exercise of synthesis and distillation and getting to the very heart of things.

“The intellectual process I learned in that class is also life's process. Because every life is a Great Work, with all the richness of its gifts and the wealth of its possibilities.”

— Carly Fiorina, Former CEO Hewlett-Packard

“I decided to take a calligraphy class...I learned about serif and san serif type-faces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating...None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.”

— Steve Jobs, Creator of the First Macintosh Computer and Co-founder of Apple

“[This introductory Philosophy course] was part of a broader Harvard intellectual training that provided my most important training for subsequent careers in risk arbitrage investment on Wall Street and in economic policy making in government. ”

— Robert Rubin, Former Secretary of the Treasury

“The message [i]s that entrepreneurism is a good avenue for exercising the kinds of things you learn with a humanities degree... 

“I think if you have a good background in what it is to be human, an understanding of life, culture and society, it gives you a good perspective on starting a business, instead of an education purely in business...You can always pick up how to read a balance sheet and how to figure out profit and loss, but it's harder to pick up the other stuff on the fly. ”

— Stewart Butterfield, Founder of