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AUG 11, 2008

Humanistic studies in Aspen: The Purpose and Significance of Learning, Part 1

By Yoshito Hori

It is said that Saneyuki Akiyama in Clouds Above the Hilltops (Saka no Ue no Kumo) studied in Washington, D.C., with the following belief:

‘If I lay down on the job even one day, Japan will be one step behind.’

I am now studying in Aspen, Colorado, in the United States. This is my first business trip with the sole purpose of learning since I started GLOBIS. If we intend to be the No.1 business school in Asia, then the dean must also have the No.1 qualities in Asia. As I was thinking about what would be necessary for this to be realized, I received a recommendation from Mr. Yotaro Kobayashi, so now here I am.

I am completely devoted to my studies here. Other than times set aside for meals and swimming (I will compete in a Japan Masters Championships next Monday), I have been reading classical works such as Plato and Socrates in English. The heavy workload and level of concentration required makes me feel as if I have been transported through some kind of time warp back to my days at Harvard.

This time, however, since I am able to study thanks to GLOBIS, I’d like to learn a lot and contribute to the company. That’s right, I have taken a week off to study for the first time since GLOBIS started.

I feel that, “If I lay down on the job even one day, GLOBIS will be one step behind.” :->

I sent the above email message to the GLOBIS mailing list on which all members of GLOBIS are registered.

Let me briefly summarize why I decided to come to Aspen in the first place.

After studying Business Administration at Harvard in my late 20s, I established GLOBIS when I was 30 years old and haven’t stopped running for the last 16 years. And then, without noticing, I entered my late 40s.

GLOBIS became a graduate school and then an educational corporation. We’ve also been able to start a successful venture capital enterprise. At home, I’ve been blessed with five children and a wonderful wife.

One day, Yotaro Kobayashi, chairman of the International University of Japan, recommended that I study in Aspen, saying, “the liberal arts are important. Why don’t you study at the Aspen Institute?”

Since I accepted a position on the board of this university, I occasionally meet Mr. Kobayashi, and he encouraged me, commenting, “If you get a chance, you must go.” After keeping my eye out for such an opportunity for more than a year, my long, cherished desire was fulfilled and I came to Aspen to study for one week starting July 12.

I studied Business Administration at Harvard, but would learn Humanistic Studies at Aspen. The textbooks I am reading as study materials include philosophy and sociology classics by Plato, Aristotle, Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Karl Marx. Contemporary writers include Martin Luther King, Jr. and Aung San Suu Kyi.

At Aspen, participants exchange opinions based on the following six areas: (1) the essence of being human, (2) individual rights and liberty, (3) ownership and productivity, (4) equality and social welfare, (5) leadership, and (6) community.

Participants are required to read the materials prior to class.

For example, under theme (1), the essence of being human, participants read a total of 50–100 pages from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, The Prince by Machiavelli, The Sayings of Mencius, and Charles Darwin’s “On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties” from The Descent of Man.

The first challenge I faced was reading such complex English. Even though I concentrated on reading with an electronic dictionary in one hand, I couldn’t understand the meaning after the first reading, so I usually read the material twice. To prepare for class, I spent most of my time at the Institute reading. It had been the same at Harvard, where I devoted myself to case studies and supplementary readings.

Each class is four hours long and adopts a unique discussion style, known as a “dialectic.” The desks are set up in a rectangle and two moderators are seated in the center of the shorter ends; 23 participants are placed in assigned seats (seating changes every day, so all attendees can get to know each other).

The participants represented people from various walks of life, including the principal of a distinguished boys junior high and high school in Sydney, Australia; a naval academy superintendant; a black politician; a female university professor; a banker, who was a former managing director of Goldman-Sachs and later joined the management team of Bank of America; a female Bangladeshi lawyer; and the female CEO of a family business.

One feature of this Institute is that about half the participants come to Aspen under some form of fellowship. Since the Aspen Institute was established as a nonprofit organization in 1950, there have been numerous participants. After achieving success in their respective fields, participants established a foundation for allowing future leaders to attend the seminars; they also select leaders through self-recommendation or the recommendations of others and provide fellowships. Since participants are chosen before coming to Aspen, the bar is set pretty high.

The four hour class is divided into two halves, and about an hour is spent on one text. All classes are discussion style. Moderators consistently throw out questions to elicit opinions and stimulate awareness. They rarely express their own views. This is exactly the same class method as the GLOBIS Graduate School of Management’s Keieidojyo.

To promote deeper understanding of the material, moderators ask questions about the main arguments and have participants read the text aloud if necessary. In this way, once all participants have reached a consensus on the understanding of the text, fundamental questions are then presented to develop the discussion.

For (2) individual rights and liberty, we used Aristotle’s Politics, Rousseau’s The Social Contract, The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, and two contemporary tracts. Based on these materials, we discussed the concepts of human rights and the social contract, as they were established in Western civilization.

For (3) ownership and productivity, we used The Republic by Plato, The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Two Treatises of Government by John Locke, and The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History by Ibn Khaldun. Using these texts, we discussed freedom of ownership and basic human rights.

For (4) equality and social welfare, we conducted debates about racial discrimination using Reverend King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail and sexual discrimination based on The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. In addition, we recognized the problems of capitalism through The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and discussed human rights drawing upon the works of Aung San Suu Kyi.

For (5) leadership, we read The Republic by Plato again and the Analectics of Confucius. We also had a discussion based on two contemporary theses. In between, participants performed the play Antigone, an ancient Greek tragedy.

And finally, for (6) community, we started off with Aristotle and then exchanged opinions on recent developments, such as post-modernism (including the “Gaia hypothesis”), environmental issues, and so forth.

This is a one-week program. Usually, the four hour class sessions begin at 8:30, and there are various optional activities, such as hiking around Aspen, visiting a Catholic monastery, or planning and rehearsing a play. In the evening, participants mingle and chat over dinner.

I could not take part much in the optional activities because I was studying. I prepared for class avidly in hopes of learning as much as possible during class. I literally felt as though, “If I lay down on the job even one day, GLOBIS will be one step behind.”

I did, however, decide to swim every day between studies. I was feeling a little anxious since the Japan Masters Championships was less than a week away in Japan. When I was swimming here, my body felt heavy and I quickly became short of breath. I thought it was jet lag and regretted that I had decided to go on an overseas business trip just before a swim meet.   

Two or three days later, I found out why I was feeling that way :->

Aspen is 2,500 meters above sea level, and the air is so thin that I easily ran out of breath. In short, it was like doing high altitude training. This reminded me that Japanese Olympic swimmer Kousuke Kitajima is in the midst of high altitude training in Colorado.

Telling myself, “yes, this is high altitude training,” I decided to continue swimming between studies. If possible, I would like to set a new personal record at the Japan Masters this year. With this in mind, I swam and diligently continued my studies. 

Continues in Part 2

July 20, 2008
In-flight back to Japan
Yoshito Hori

On Wednesday, September 10, I will give a talk and participate in a panel discussion with Dr. Hiroshi Okano, a painter, at “On Art and Management” at Ginza Yanagi Gallery. For details: 
    
http://www.yanagi.com/index.shtml

Also, please have a look at Dr. Okano’s work:

http://www.yanagi.com/works/okano.shtml