If you have fun doing this stuff, that’s going to be communicated to students.

Skip McGoun

Whether he's studying Colombia's decorated public buses, finding links between the word "crash" when used in relation to cars and economies, or converting financial data into music — then dance, Professor Elton "Skip" McGoun, management, is always seeking new ways to interpret and experience finance.

"Graphs and equations have a role in finance," he says. "But it's still something that's done by humans." And humans perceive the world — including things related to finance — with all their senses. Therefore, McGoun approaches the study of finance visually, aurally and even kinesthetically.

His project, Dancing the Dow — a collaborative effort with Professor Kelly Knox, theatre & dance — takes the Dow Jones monthly industrial averages from just before the 1929 stock market crash up to the start of World War II and converts the numbers into music, using a computer program. The next logical step, for McGoun? Interpreting the music through dance.

"Using your imagination, you can kind of hear and feel the crash," he notes.

In addition, McGoun views the architecture and design of financial institutions as visual expressions of finance, meant to send messages to consumers, employees and investors. He points to the modernized interior of the 1879 Frankfurt Stock Exchange as an example of design employed to influence behavior.

"The point was to create a stage set for German television," McGoun says, explaining that the building's interior was updated in 2006. "It's meant to make a statement about investing and to encourage investment."

McGoun adds that finance and marketing are interconnected with storytelling and illusion. Even numbers, often viewed as objective, are manipulated to sell products and projects. Whether persuading a potential investor or selling a BMW, he says, "It's the person who can craft the story and create the imagery who sells the product."

In the classroom, McGoun seeks to make students aware of the illusory aspects of finance and empower them to be fearless about questioning those who claim to have expert, objective knowledge.

"With numbers, nothing is ever what it seems," he says. "Don't let anyone intimidate you with numbers. I want students to have the confidence to ask, 'Would you explain that to me?'"

He also wants students to grasp "the power of stories and imagery," as related to finance, noting, "The human element of this is way more important than we give it credit for. Finance has a profound impact [on politics and social policy], but people don't realize it, because it's pretty arcane. But this stuff matters to people, and it's not a game."

Updated September 2017