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“You Can Do Anything,” a Business Writer’s Ode to the Liberal Arts

By Kevin Myers on August 14, 2017 04:26 PM

George Anders is the bestselling author of five business books, including The New York Times bestseller Perfect Enough about how Carly Fiorina helped restructure Hewlett Packard’s business model and stopped the company’s steep decline. He also wrote The Rare Find, about how hiring managers can do a better job of recognizing exceptional talent, and the follow-up book Becoming a Rare Find. In between authoring business books, Anders pens articles for the likes of Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Fast Company. So, you may be wondering, what possible interest could Anders have in Reed College?

In his latest book, You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of the “Useless” Liberal Arts Education, Anders comes to the conclusion that “in a tech-dominated world, the most needed degrees are the most surprising: the liberal arts.” Those most familiar with the liberal arts education might suggest that Anders remove the word useless and move the scare quotes to “Surprising Power,” but they will agree with the book’s insight:

“Curiosity, creativity, and empathy aren't unruly traits that must be reined in. You can be yourself, as an English major, and thrive in sales. You can segue from anthropology into the booming new field of user research; from classics into management consulting, and from philosophy into high-stakes investing. You can bring a humanist’s grace to our rapidly evolving high-tech future. And if you know how to attack the job market, your opportunities will be vast.”   

To delve deeply into the liberal arts, Anders spent time at Reed and visited other liberal arts colleges, such as Bard. He spent his days at Reed sitting in on classes, speaking with professors, administrators, students, and alumni. He wanted to learn what it was about a liberal arts education that helped graduates adapt and thrive in an ever changing marketplace.  

At a trade show in Chicago, Anders met Russian major Mara Zepeda ’02, a founder (along with Classics major Sean Lerner ’10 and Art major Greg Borenstein ’02) of Switchboard.com, a platform that makes it easy for students and alumni to connect. The trio seemed to exemplify the theme of Ander’s book. In the simplest terms, it’s not about what major is written on the diploma, but rather the skills that you develop while you’re in college that help you succeed.

As another example of applying a humanist's touch to an unlikely job, Jessica Benjamin ’93, sales manager for Monster.com, is quoted in a chapter titled “Prepared Forever.” “I inadvertently got well prepared for this,” Benjamin told Anders. Her broad education helped her to be conversant on many topics and gave her the ability to explain Monster.com’s products in ways that best suit her audience: technologically, using analogy, or interpreting data.

Anders ends his book with advice for job seekers and entrepreneurs; keep investing in new ideas. Early innovators, he says, reap gigantic rewards and the most interesting professionals he knows are always looking for opportunities that arise at the junctures between two disciplines.

Anders is planning a return to campus in November, and the college will publicize any public lectures.