According to LinkedIn, creativity is the number one skill desired by employers. Companies like McKinsey, for example, seek creative thinkers and problem solvers, and many universities now offer courses that teach creativity. Examples of university courses include:

  • Creativity, Innovation, and Vision
  • Debunking Myths and Enhancing Creativity
  • Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Thinking
  • Creative Approaches to Problem Solving

Many students recognize that companies recruit creative individuals and that a creativity course on their CV, not to mention the skills they have recently acquired, can help them stand out when interning or interviewing. As a professor of creativity in higher education, this increased interest excites me. When a creativity course goes well, students enhance their personal and professional creativity, learn to take risks, embrace new experiences, produce surprising and moving creative products, and grow in other unforeseen ways. This experience aligns with the standard definition of creativity: novel, and useful. A true creativity course does not demand that students implement their creative ideas (which would instead come in a creativity and innovation course) as innovation involves the implementation of creative ideas. In fact, some universities offer courses in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship, like innovation, involves not only creativity but the creation of an entity, such as a business.

Why does this matter?

Why consider academic definitions when designing a creativity, innovation, or entrepreneurship course?  Definitions matter because burgeoning creativity courses are no longer one-size-fits-all (happily), and serve different needs according to students’ interests and specializations. For example, the Stanford Design Lab (or offers a course, Designing Your Life, which uses design thinking to help students creatively construct a life they love. What would happen if this course was named Creativity and Innovation? How would entrepreneurial students be impacted by enrolling in this course? Imagine the students entertained expectations of engaging with course material involving a business startup model. Despite the value and appeal of Designing Your Life for many people, it would not meet the expectations of that particular student, and their motivation and investment in the course would suffer. Furthermore, we know from research that intrinsic motivation plays a vital role in the success of creative outcomes.

Personal creativity and entrepreneurial creativity have merit, serve different purposes, and attract different students. For example, personal, or everyday creativity has been associated with mental health. I wonder if some creativity courses are labeled innovation courses due to stereotypes. Indeed, some professors may fear a creativity course will be misconstrued as an arts course.  As a result, more students flock to innovation courses than creativity courses.

How do we fix this?

Rather than rely on implicit definitions, be specific, upfront, and accurate when naming and describing a course, paying particular attention to the terms creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. If a university has the capacity, offer a diverse range of creativity courses. For example, the Entrepreneurship Department at Miami University provides broad courses at the lower level that grow gradually more specialized. Also, be clear about the skills a course or other learning experience aims to develop. Students invest significant time and money in their education to acquire the skills that will help them reach their unique personal and professional goals; we can help them achieve this with clarity of language in course names, descriptions, and syllabi.

Dr. Molly Holinger is a visiting assistant professor of Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Thinking in the Farmer School of Business at Miami University. She studies the positive outcomes of creativity such as positive emotions, engagement, and meani

One Comment

  • DE says:

    Nice Dr. Holinger, this merits much more press and discussion than it gets. Mostly the definitions of “Creativity,” “entrepreneurship,”and “Innovation” are so misunderstood that the title of courses (and books) can make or break success. Thank you for talking about it.

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