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School subjects essential for business success (no – they’re not the ones you think)


I have a friend, Blythe Scott, who’s an artist (at www.BlytheScott.com) . She’s made the point many times that at primary school, parents are keen to get their children to experience as many different activities as possible.

However when it comes to secondary school, the same parents are rather quick to relegate these activities to being merely hobbies, whilst ‘serious’ subjects take on a higher value in a mini rat-race of academic success.

Sir Ken Robinson has pointed out that in pretty much every culture, there’s a hierarchy of school subjects, with maths, science and language at the top, humanities in the middle…and arts and the bottom.

Prof. Howard Gardner, in his work on Multiple Intelligences points out that the academic system values a very narrow skills set, and that success can be found with a whole raft of talents, many of which simply aren’t recognised in most academic curricula.

So here are three subjects – yep, some of the ones that usually get sidelined as hobbies – that provide youngsters with skills that are critical to business and personal success.


PE and performance management

Physical Education. Something at which I was absolutely hopeless at school, and one of those subjects that can be seen as a lightweight choice for those who don’t have academic ability. Am I right…or am I right? If you’re good at the sciences and you’re pretty sporty too, you’re going to feel a moral and social obligation to be a doctor rather than a sports coach, aren’t you, whatever your heart is telling you?!

However. At a recent parents evening at my son’s school, the transferable skills that PE offers were spelled out for me.

Part of the (Scottish curriculum) course involves students gauging their own performance, measuring against their own expectations and benchmarking against others in their peer group.

They’ll then devise a plan to improve and build on that performance, and review again at regular intervals.

If this sounds faintly familiar, so it should: because it’s the same process for performance management and development that businesses follow.

Here at school level, in one of those ‘also ran’ subjects, students are building a mindset of constant performance improvement, AND developing the skills required to achieve it. And what business doesn’t want that?


Music and teamworking

Music is another subject which, unless someone is absolutely determined, becomes a nice pastime and a subject that’s dropped in favour of something deemed more job-worthy.

However, a considerable amount of research done amongst under-achieving youngsters has demonstrated that improving one’s ability in music improves all round academic ability and indeed one’s attention span and ability to focus.

Consider also the teamwork and trust that’s required in an ensemble situation, be it the full blown symphony orchestra, with its section leaders working under the overall direction of the conductor, or a small ensemble like a string quartet.

Music ensembles provide a valuable metaphor – and indeed many leadership and team working lessons – from which the business community can learn.


Art and innovation

I’ve recently devised a creativity and innovation workshop which focuses on the work of leading artists and inventors, distilling practical techniques which can be applied in the workplace to problem solving, product / service innovation and so on.

Who better to look to when considering creativity than artists, after all?

Again, at school level – art remains one of those subjects which often scores fewer brownie points than more academic subjects.

Yet there are those who suggest that teaching art should be as important as teaching language or numbers (Betty Edwards, author of ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ being one of them), because it gives us a valuable visual vocabulary which most of us lack.

The ability to visualise. The ability to take concepts and represent them as matter. The ability to imagine and turn that imagination into something tangible. The processes involved in creating a piece of art are, in fact, the fundamental principles of creativity in any context….and creativity is the forerunner of business innovation.


So don’t be too quick to look down on subject areas that are traditionally taken by those seen to be not so academic. They may be teaching valuable life and workplace skills that the ‘clever’ kids never get to develop.

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