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Learning to be creative

By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Creativity is the buzzword in many a modern boardroom, yet some in business still complain that too many newly-minted MBAs are competent but uninspired, well-versed in the technical theory but lacking in imagination.

A series of business schools have tried to improve this perceived failing with some innovative classes.

For example, Professor David Sims, who teaches organizational behavior at London's Cass Business School, aims to teach students the seemingly intangible virtues of imagination, inspiration, intuition and improvisation.

He does this by taking students choosing his elective on themed exercises, for example going to London's National Portrait Gallery to look at pictures of leaders with the help of an art historian.

Other schools use art to illustrate business principles. Sad Business School, part of Britain's Oxford University, ran a three-day leadership course based on the history of Julius Caesar as told in William Shakespeare's famous 1599 tragedy.

Meanwhile, Harvard Business School Professor Joseph Badaracco's course on learning business lessons from literary characters has proved so popular he turned it into a book.

In a new initiative, Judge Business School, part of the University of Cambridge in the UK, is taking a more direct approach.

It has just teamed up with a leading advertising agency to hold what it calls a "unique creativity workshop" for its MBAs.

Market gap?

The two-day event was developed after research showed that only two top U.S. MBA schools offer courses in creativity, and only one European school has incorporated design into its curriculum.

It was jointly taught by staff from the Judge school and executives from Saatchi and Saatchi, with the idea of breaking down the notion that creativity should be the sole preserve of the so-called "creative industries" such as advertising.

The aim was "to provide a perspective on business and career development that lies totally outside the established MBA curriculum, confronting prejudices about creativity and providing innovative methodologies developed to channel creativity to 'stretch the walls of the elastic-sided box', that can be successfully applied to any industry, to generate momentous ideas," according to Kevin Roberts, Saatchi and Saatchi's worldwide CEO.

This was an important concept for would-be future business leaders to grasp, said Allegre Hadida, lecturer in strategy at Judge.

"Leonardo Da Vinci did not specialize as an artist or a scientist but produced masterpieces in both domains," she explained.

"Likewise, business leaders in the age of ideas should not consider themselves either left or right brain thinkers. The challenge for our workshop is remove from the students the common 'I am a left-brain person, I can't be creative!' mindset, and to train them to unleash their creativity."

Other schools can take a less direct route, but still challenge their students to come up with new ideas.

The International University of Monaco has just handed a particularly tough challenge to 24 MBA students enrolled on a marketing management course -- develop the concept for a new board game.

In just six weeks, the groups of four and five students generated 70 new game concepts which were evaluated by executives from game companies.

Several of the most promising ideas are being chosen for the students to now take into a new product development course this month.


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Making an impression: Can MBAs learn creativity?

FACT BOX

FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Hong Kong UST, China
3. London Business School, UK
4. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Kellogg, U.S.
9. Stern, NY, U.S.
10. Cass, City University, UK
Source: Financial Times 2006

FACT BOX

EMBA SNAPSHOT

Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.

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