Party Like Its 1599: 16th-Century Counterpoint Delivers Value in Marketing

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Party Like Its 1599: 16th-Century Counterpoint Delivers Value in Marketing "November 10, 2015
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Party Like Its 1599: 16th-Century Counterpoint Delivers Value in Marketing

By Lindsey Cook, Content Manager, PCI.

Bob, now owner and co-founder of a marketing agency, dedicated a considerable portion of his junior year of college to studying and writing 16th-century counterpoint. Counterpoint is the art of composing multiple musical voices or parts that work together harmonically but are independent in melody and rhythm. It’s hard to imagine a less practical skill.

So, why does Bob believe his dedication to the subject delivers value in his professional life today? PCI’s Content Manager, Lindsey Cook, sat down with him to discuss his article, Why I’m Glad I Learned 16th-Century Counterpoint, on the value of studying outside-the-box disciplines. The complete article can be found in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning.

Cook: You attribute your ability to think linearly and horizontally at the same time, and your capacity for being inspired by rules, to studying 16th-century counterpoint. How have you benefited from these skills throughout your marketing career?

Sprague: I think an effective piece of marketing tries to transport the viewer from one place to another, much like a good piece of music does. What you’re seeing at any point is important — sort of like the chords you hear at once — but so is the forward motion that takes you to a place of being persuaded to change your behavior, which is more like the melody or melodies moving forward in time.

Cook: You encourage students to study the “wacky,” “radical,” “offbeat,” but eminently important courses and subjects in order to introduce new modes of thought. How can students identify such courses or subjects to pursue? Is there a means of measuring the value of skills learned?

Sprague: Well, that’s sort of my point. You can’t predict how a course you take at 18 or 19 is going to benefit you over a lifetime or a career, so you can’t really identify or measure that course in advance. There’s nothing wrong with taking a core set of courses that are important to the career path you envision when you enter college. But there’s also nothing wrong with taking electives in subjects that interest you, whether or not they seem directly related to your future earning ability.

Cook: What do you consider the sine qua non of the career world? Is it possible for students prepare for careers that do not yet exist?

Sprague: You have to take Latin, so you know what “sine qua non” means. Other than that, I think it’s flexibility and versatility. If college has prepared you to think on your feet and to tackle new ideas, you’ll be best equipped for whatever the career world throws at you.

Cook: You’re critical of those who evaluate higher education solely on the basis of practical utility. How do you believe institutions of higher education can make improvements in preparing students for their future? Can these improvements, or preparedness, be measured?

Sprague: I suspect that many institutions of higher education are doing a better job than their critics give them credit for. I worry a little about community colleges and for-profit colleges, because many of them put such an emphasis on preparing students for particular careers. That’s fine, but it shouldn’t be exclusive. I believe colleges and universities should simply resist the small-minded idea that they purely exist to prepare people for careers. They exist to prepare people for fulfilling lives.

Cook: Is there a non-obvious subject you believe people should dive into now in order to succeed in our globalized, evolving world? Why?

Sprague: If I could tell you, it wouldn’t be non-obvious. I think, by definition, it is and should be different for every person. Maybe you know it when you see it. The point is, dive in. That said, I don’t think anybody can go far wrong by learning more about writing; in many ways it’s more important than ever despite our digital, video-obsessed world. And as far as globalized, I wish I’d really learned another language. Maybe Farsi.

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