As technology moves the world at ever greater speeds and artificial intelligence becomes the electricity of the twenty first century, engineers are revered, and STEM subjects encouraged. At times, this comes at the cost of art and the human element. A computer science graduate is currently guaranteed to find a well-paying job, whereas a liberal arts graduate may find it harder.
Yet the most interesting people I know have diverse tastes and are Renaissance men and women. In the Renaissance, it was a mark of prestige to have an understanding of the arts, and the sciences, to speak several languages and have creative pursuits. As well as beheading his wives and periodically invading France, Henry VIII also wrote sonnets.
The arts, whether visual, theatre or music, give us an understanding of the human condition, which is universal and eternal. While the way we communicate has changed, what we want to say has not. The child of an egotistic parent will recognize King Lear’s selfishness and anyone who has ever been in love will identify with the tenderness of Rodin’s The Kiss.
The end user of every product is human, whether that product is software, a dress or a book. A narrow focus on product or financial metrics, which dismisses the human element, is unlikely to create something lasting.
Noble.AI, a California-based company which makes artificial intelligence to enable faster and cheaper research and development for the likes of Boeing, is predictably full of engineers. Less predictable is the fact that around a quarter of its staff are artists and designers. Dr Matthew Levy, CEO and founder of Noble.AI, says that his emphasis on aesthetics means that the products they make have to be beautiful and pleasing to use, as well as technologically advanced. “I don’t think our products could be successful if we didn’t think about how people would be interacting with them. The people who use our products are human and they have a wide range of interests, so it is important not to have a narrow focus.”
Levy says that it takes a conscious effort to bring diverse viewpoints together and avoid the risk of sitting in your own bubble. As recent events have shown us, it is easy to submerge oneself into an echo-chamber of reinforcing beliefs. Levy is inspired by Steve Jobs, who revered artists and put beautiful design at the heart of Apple.
Levy suggests that if you want to be a first-rate engineer, focus on engineering, but if you want to be an entrepreneur, develop your wider interests. “Allow yourself time to dive into that interest. I guarantee there will be connections you’ve never anticipated when you started out on that journey.”
In fact, this is how Levy and I met. We were both at the beginning of our entrepreneurial journeys and were working from Second Home, a workspace known for its creative approach. Spanish architects SelgasCano designed an environment so beautiful and unique, that it inevitably drew companies to whom aesthetics were important. I run a fashion tech company, so this was a simple choice for me, but I was surprised by how much design mattered to my frontier technology innovating neighbors.