C-Suite Agenda

5 ways to teach creativity and nurture innovation in higher education and why it matters

University students in class

The ability to apply creative and innovative thought in the workplace is an essential skill, and one which needs to be taught in schools. But for that to be achieved, fundamental changes are needed to both the culture of educational institutes themselves and to their teaching methodology.

Our rapidly changing world requires that education move beyond the simple mastering of hard, technical skills and equip learners with the means to adapt and innovate along with it. Today’s workplaces are virtually unrecognisable compared to 30 years ago. Machines are replacing humans when it comes to repetitive and physical work, which means employers need a workforce that has the skills machines don’t have: creative and critical thought processes and the ability to innovate and adapt to change. To enable students to meet this need once they enter the workplace, it is important that education systems equip learners with the skills to practice critical thinking, creativity, and innovation.

Changing the system

Some critics argue that teaching these skills will undermine the emphasis placed on teaching traditional knowledge. What needs to be recognised is that both are necessary – and fundamental – especially when it comes to equipping students for success in their future careers. These skills are important for all people entering the workplace: from low-level personnel to top managers.

At schools, universities, and colleges, these skills need to be deliberately implemented – and assessed – within the curriculum, recognising them as “must-have skills” rather than simply “nice to have”.

Generally speaking, schools are perceived as resistant to incorporating more creativity and innovation in their curricula: most schools teach students how to fish in order to catch more fish, instead of teaching them how to develop better, more innovative rods.  

However, it is our duty as educators to prepare lifelong learners that can keep up with the evolution of customers’ demand for “wow” services and innovative products.

5 ways to teach creativity and nurture innovation

In this context, creativity should not be confused with the visual arts. Instead we are talking about applying creative thinking to processes and solutions. Creativity includes thinking creatively, working creatively with others, and implementing innovations. There is a myth that creativity cannot be taught because it is an inherent trait. This myth is exacerbated by traditional education which previously focused on memorisation and standardised tests, which stifle, rather than foster, creativity. Here are five ways to boost creativity in the classroom or lecture hall.

  1. Question the current knowledge
    To develop creativity, we need to encourage students to go one step further in their knowledge and understanding: they need to be given the freedom and will to question perceived wisdom and the information they are being taught. Creativity complements different subjects but does not substitute it. It is important that students first have enough understanding of the material, and then creatively analyse and assess it from an informed perspective.
  2. Train the trainer
    Teachers frequently lack confidence in their own creative abilities, which makes it difficult for them to promote creative solutions. Teachers need to develop the skill sets needed to take a creative approach to helping students grow, and consolidate their factual knowledge through experimentation, debates, brainstorming sessions, team building exercises, and projects.
  3. Develop a culture that values student’s contributions
    Schools must develop a culture in the classroom that values students’ creative contributions. Students need to be given time to reflect, discuss, and review information, and they must be encouraged to pursue sensible risk taking and to look beyond the set curriculum for solutions. It is crucial that we move beyond “instructor education” to enable creative thinking and teaching. The creative competence of educators is a crucial aspect in defining the experiences of students.
  4. Take the time to experiment
    To promote innovation, teachers should set aside the time and resources necessary to allow students to interact and experiment. Innovation requires critical analysis of well-established ideas, which can be fostered through training listening, questioning, thinking, engaging, and exchanging opinions and ideas.
  5. Design activities that challenge the status quo
    Innovation skills can be taught through activities and smart technology that enable learners to work together in groups to avert and solve problems. Design thinking, where a methodical process is applied to creative problem solving, is quickly gaining recognition for its role in sparking innovation and creating new ideas.

The time for academic evolution is now. It is imperative that learning institutions overcome resistance – whether it is cultural, organisational or political – to implement this change in teaching methodology.  Schools need a vision, incentives, resources, and an action plan, because without the willingness – and ability – to change and adapt, the risk of failure and an ill-equipped future workforce is high.

Tanja Florenthal
Tanja Florenthal, Dean of César Ritz Colleges Switzerland and Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland, two hospitality management and culinary arts schools based in Switzerland. Tanja Florenthal is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.