It was traditionally thought that creativity and business were on opposite sides of the spectrum. But business has long evolved beyond stuffy boardrooms and long, repetitive meetings. Today’s business professionals need to be innovative and imaginative – and business education needs to reflect that.
Creativity now sits among the top critical skills that employers want from business graduates, explains Dr Samantha Giove, Director of Sheffield Business School. In fact, management consulting firm, McKinsey has uncovered a strong correlation between creativity and financial performance; so it’s in companies’ best interests to encourage it.
That’s why business schools are integrating creativity into their curriculum, both in the way they teach and the way students learn.
“To be a creative thinker is to be curious, to seek out solutions to the biggest problems and to find opportunities in unobvious places,” says Dr Giove. “It is up to business schools to create safe spaces where these boundaries can be pushed.”
Can you teach creativity?
Creativity is a skill with so many benefits, and yet it’s one that can be hard to embed into a rigid business school curriculum. AACSB, one of the top business school accrediting bodies, offers some tips for business schools looking to do this: business schools should elevate their experiential learning offerings, build stronger connections with community and business leaders and foster a culture that promotes and nurtures innovators.
Another way business schools can implement creative teaching is through the use of technology, such as AI and virtual reality. Having this technology in place isn’t enough however, and business schools should strive to build strategic partnerships and offer training and operational modules that allow their platforms to remain competitive.
A great example of this is NEOMA Business School in France, in which VR technology is used throughout the curriculum to simulate business scenarios or create immersive product and service marketing experiences. Students might be asked to create a new app, or a software solution to address a business problem, combining the skills they’ve learned in class with an imaginative mindset.
NEOMA has also recently launched an entirely virtual fourth campus. This metaverse-like world offers an immersive learning experience with students appearing as avatars on the screen, walking around a digital replica of the campus.
Technology is being used more frequently to expand the capacity of creative teaching. Today’s MBA candidates are watching live lectures delivered by 3D holograms. These life-sized entities appeared at a lecture theatre at Imperial College Business School in the UK, able to answer questions and engage with audiences in real-time, as if they were physically present in the lecture theatre.
“In an era where digital transformation is vital, creativity helps students understand and leverage new technologies innovatively, ensuring businesses stay ahead in the digital landscape,” saiys Haithem Marzouki, Director of Innovative Pedagogy at NEOMA.
The appeal of competitions and challenges
Challenges and competitions are both popular ways to incorporate creativity into the curriculum, allowing students to combine business knowledge and technical skills with imagination and creativity.
A team from Spain’s GBSB Global Business School, for example, recently took part in the L’Óreal Brandstorm Challenge, in which students must reinvent the future of professional beauty through tech. The GBSB team’s project, which involved using artificial intelligence to redefine beauty standards, earned them a place in the semi-finals.
Similarly, Sheffield Business School’s Live Event Experience challenged students to develop and deliver a live event to raise funds for charity. They started with a balance of zero, fundraising through crowdfunding and enterprising activities. Since 2010 they have designed and orchestrated creative themes each year, from spectacular gala dinners to festivals, to wedding fayres, model competitions, fashion shows, live music and food and drink events. Over the course of the module, students have raised more than £400,000 for charity.
Interdisciplinary challenges are also an essential part of the NHH Norwegian School of Economics Bachelor in Business, Economics, and Data Science programme. Using simulations and competitions, students are challenged to use data science knowledge to solve complex problems in a creative, innovative way.
“Creative thinking equips students with unique problem-solving skills, essential for tackling complex, dynamic business challenges. It also fosters adaptability and resilience, essential for mastering the ever-evolving world of data and analytics in business,” says Håkon Otneim, Assistant Professor of Business and Management Science at NHH Norwegian School of Economics.
Workshops to tackle complex business problems
Whether they’re taking part or running them, workshops give students the opportunity to collaborate and practice leadership skills, such as problem-solving, communication and decision-making. Interactive activities solved through teamwork will encourage participants to foster a creative approach to problem-solving.
One way this can be done is through a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® session which uses Lego pieces to guide business workshops to develop problem-solving skills and reflection. Its co-founder, Johan Roos, is Hult’s Chief Academic Advisor. Professor Roos believes there is a place for curiosity and play in business and that embracing these things can help drive innovation and invention. This is reflected in Hult International Business School’s curriculum, in which students are taught using challenge-based learning, collaborating to solve real challenges set by businesses.
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is also used by the likes of GBSB Global Business School, as part of a series of workshops offered in its modules. These workshops range from Design Thinking to Agile Methodologies, and focus on developing creative thinking, innovative approaches and problem-solving skills. Like Hult, GBSB collaborates with companies, with students acting as consultants, providing valuable insights to improve future strategies and integrate innovative technologies.
“Creativity enriches the skills of business students and broadly prepares them for diverse career paths,” says Dr Hind Naaman, Head of Studies and Academic Operations at GBSB Global Business School.
While business schools are beginning to recognise the value of creativity, students sometimes don’t. Some students struggle to overcome preconceptions of their own creativity, believing that creativity is something that cannot be learned, but something that they’re born with or without. Business schools need to challenge these stereotypes, explains Nathalie Fontaine, professor in the Strategy and Entrepreneurship department at NEOMA.
“We foster creativity and the ability to innovate through our teaching, which is based on active pedagogy such as learning by doing, as well as playful pedagogy such as games and playful simulations,” says Professor Fontaine. NEOMA starts its programmes by proposing extravagant fictitious situations for students to solve – an example of playful pedagogy.
Students might, for example, be asked to imagine that we live in a world where we’ve discovered a marmot is able to time travel, and students must imagine all the business ideas they could develop knowing that now marmots can travel through time. At the end of their degree programme, students are then confronted with an innovation challenge submitted by a real company, which they must solve in a similarly creative way.