Apparently, British inventor James Dyson has argued that more people should study engineering and fewer “French lesbian poetry”. Assuming he is correctly quoted, there are a couple of things one could say in response.
First, all Mr Dyson need do is pay engineers more than the going market rates, and he will attract more people into the profession. Likewise, he could give students scholarships to study engineering. He, unlike most of the rest of us, has it in his direct personal power to achieve this goal. I think it ill-behooves someone who moved his manufacturing operations off-shore to bemoan any lack of home-grown talents.
Second, no matter how wonderful the engineering technology or novelty of the latest, jet-propelled, wind-turbine-bladed vacuum cleaner, the technology will not sell itself. For that, even the vacuum cleaners of the famous Mr Dyson need marketing and advertising. And, marketing needs people who can understand and predict customer attitudes and behaviours, people who have studied psychology and sociology and anthropology and economics. Marketing needs people who can analyze data, increasingly in large quantities and in real-time, people who have studied mathematics and statistics and computer science and econometrics. Marketing needs people who can strategize, people who have studied game theory and military strategy and political science and history, and can emphathize with customers and competitors. As Australian advertising man Philip Adams once noted, Marxists and ex-Marxists are often the best marketing strategists, because they think dialectically about the long term.
And advertising needs people who can manipulate images, people who have usually studied art or art history or graphic design or architecture. Advertising needs people who can take photos and use movie cameras and direct films, people who have studied photography and cinematography and lighting and film and theatre studies and acting. Advertising needs people who can write jingles and advertising scores, and play the music required, people who have studied music and song and musical instruments. Advertising needs people who can build sets, acquire props, and obtain costumes, people who are good with their hands or who have studied fashion. And, finally, advertising needs people who can write ad copy and scripts – often people have studied history and journalism and languages and literature and poetry – even, at times, I would guess, the poetry of French lesbians.
One reason Britain is a such a world leader in marketing and advertising, despite the long-term decline and poor management of its manufacturing industry, is because of its many leading art colleges and universities teaching the humanities and social sciences. The name of Dyson would not be known to households across the country and beyond without the contributions of many, many professionals who did not study engineering.
UPDATE (2012-12-01): And if you are still wondering why more people studying engineering would not be sufficient for business success, consider this from Grant McCracken:
Culture is the sea in which business swims. We can’t do good innovation without it. We can’t do good marketing without it. And we can’t build a good corporate culture without it.”