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Soft skills are nice, but what we need is a new sentimental education

CEOs are feeling cornered in the corner office and are turning inward for help. They meditate and go on silent retreats, and experiment with psychedelics. They strive to be more conscious, even abandoning the idea of shareholder value as the top priority. All of this suggests that the concept of the “economic man” driven by self-interest and rational decision-making may lie behind us.

Too bad that the “purpose man” already feels oh-so-yesterday, too. The visionary leader who spreads the gospel of mission-driven business, inflating business models with lofty world-changing rhetoric, has lost their glamor after several prominent examples of this breed—from Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes to Uber’s Travis Kalanick and WeWork’s Adam Neumann—fell from grace.

Perhaps what these leaders—and we all—are lacking is simply more awareness of the world around us. Instead of formulating emotive mission statements, what’s truly needed is a new sentimental education: a heartfelt appreciation of value that cannot be neatly squeezed into numbers and figures, but must be intuited, experienced, and wrestled with. 

This is not to be confused with emotional intelligence. While emotional intelligence is about understanding and leveraging our affections, a sentimental education is an education of the heart. Emotional intelligence teaches us how to win. A sentimental education teaches us how to lose. It is key to self-awareness and resilience, to understanding who we are and who we can become.

In this recent piece for Quartz, I write about some of its core tenets: emotional granularity, solitude, conversation, amateurism, arts and humanities, and ethics and aesthetics.

It’s the kind of education that we hope you can hone by attending the House of Beautiful Business 2019, in conversation with residents such as Pauline Brown, author of the upcoming book Aesthetic IntelligenceAmy Whitaker, the author of Art Thinking; or Herminia Ibarra, leadership expert and professor at the London Business School, and many others; and by reading the soon-to-be released Book of Beautiful Business (pre-orders start on October 22). 

By the way, AI needs a sentimental education, too! If we reduce AI to being the great optimizer, it will optimize us to death. And if we aim merely to design “human-centered AI,” it might be too narrow of a goal to ensure we treat all life with due respect. To ensure we are not ending up with a monochrome society of reckless machines (whether they’re artificial or human), we must create AI that is beautiful.

I can’t wait to explore this idea further with the many leading AI thinkers and practitioners who will be joining us at the House in Lisbon this year: Dave and Helen EdwardsChristian GuttmannJohn C. HavensDonald D. HoffmanKonstantinos KarachaliosMartin KemkaMaria KolitsidaKate O’NeillJin Joo LeeMariana LinTwain LiuMark Sagar, and Yanbo Xue, among others.

All best,

Tim and the House of Beautiful Business team


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