From STEM to STEAM?

May 7th 2017

From STEM to STEAM?

The focus on STEM subjects has become all consuming - and it's time for a rethink that respects the contribution that the art, design and other humanities subjects make to the world around us.

I recognised the value of STEM when the term was first introduced into our vocabulary to represent the increasing focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

It was a useful tool for discussions around education, employability and making sure that our education providers knew that industry needs these skills in order to maximise the potential for growth and innovation.

However, I now think that the time has come where the expression ‘too much of anything is bad for you’ is true of STEM. It seems to me that the story has progressed from simply recognising that STEM subjects are an important part of the mix when it comes to the skills society needs to prosper.

It has now reached the stage where STEM appears to be all that is spoken about in any conversation about education and this approach is disrespectful to the contribution that many other subjects make to the society we live in, the schools we learn in and the businesses we work in.

Art and design have a huge role to play in the future success of our businesses as well as helping to create a rounded society which is self-aware and uses this knowledge to create better products, better services and better relationships with our customers.

In today’s world, where everything has to be measured on a spreadsheet, art, design and the humanities are at risk of being phased out because there is no obvious formula to measure the positive impact they have on us as individuals or on our businesses and customers.

But STEM subjects alone will not provide us with the insights we need in order to be able to understand how our customers will interact with us. More than 80% of all the decisions we make are emotional ones rather than rational ones. The only predictable thing about our interactions with human beings as customers is that they will be completely unpredictable. It’s those with an understanding of and an education in the art, design and humanities subjects that will bring this understanding to the game.

The growth in popularity of The School of Life in recent years provides some evidence of a growing realisation of the value that art, design and humanities can offer the business world.

What started as a self-help project to help people build more meaningful relationships and become more fulfilled in their own everyday lives has developed into a tool that hundreds if not thousands of businesses are using to develop deep emotional connections with customers.

It’s time to evolve STEM. A recent incarnation of this is STEAM with the ‘A’ representing the need to also focus on art, design and the humanities. There is a huge amount that art, music, design and philosophy can teach us about ourselves and it is this knowledge which will help us to better understand our customers, leading to better new products, stronger customer relationships and more profitable businesses.

So let’s grasp the opportunity that this presents and realise that balance is the answer. This is how we will deliver what our businesses need in the future.

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