New programmes nurture creative thinking
Innovation in business - the kind that has spun off into lucrative ventures for the likes of Google, Microsoft and Facebook - may be far more accessible than you think, with academics believing that creativity exists within each one of us; all it takes is the opportunity for such thinking to be nurtured.
Hong Kong University's School of Business is putting this conviction into practice with the launch of the city's first undergraduate business administration programme with a specialisation in business design and innovation next September.
'The programme not only provides cutting-edge training in business administration, but will also help to develop a deep reserve of knowledge and skills conducive to creativity and innovation,' said Ali Farhoomand, leader of the new programme.
'Creativity is the ability to see new things or existing things in a new light. We believe this way of thinking can be cultivated if efforts are made to teach the brain to think in a different way; most notably breaking the traditional patterns of thought and increasing the use of the right brain which is responsible for creative thinking,' explained Professor Farhoomand.
'We, too often, are dominated by the left brain as it is the dominant, rational, controlling side.'
Creativity and innovation in business education disintegrated half a century ago, beginning in the 1950s when universities in North America started taking a functional specific approach to teaching the discipline.
'Accounting, financial analysis, marketing were each taught and operated in their own fiefdom, which meant students became excellent at analysis but had a limited view of overall business problems because they were not attuned to integrative thinking,' he said.
Business education has consequently turned generations of students into engineers of business; churning out executives who can focus narrowly on function-specific problem-solving, but are unable to become architects of businesses in the sense of taking charge in designing the structure of a business and organisation and pulling together all the relevant parts.
Nowhere perhaps is creative business thinking more stifled than in Asia, particularly in Confucius-based Chinese culture, which puts emphasis on respect for authority, the maintenance of harmony and equilibrium, and an aversion to risk taking - none of which promote creativity and innovation.
'In order for fresh ideas to flourish, people must be allowed to experiment and fail,' he said, adding that the fear of failure and unwillingness to rock the boat could hinder the pursuit of innovative business ideas.
The new programme is aimed at changing that. By taking an interdisciplinary approach and introducing a gamut of out-of-the-box teaching techniques which range from listening to jazz, reflection and thinking tasks to creative exercises that stimulate the right side of the brain in addition to an array of extra-curricular activities such as overseas exchanges and summer internships, students will be pushed to think more dynamically as their ingrained patterns of thought are challenged.
Admission to the programme, which will only have an initial intake of 20 students, will be tough. Beyond academic excellence, the university will look for students who are dynamic, energetic and most importantly, unique.
'Candidates need to show they are somehow different. They must stand out and be able to articulate a creative vision. They need to show they can think outside of the box. Their ideas can be on anything from how the irrigation problem in Burma [Myanmar] can be resolved to what can be done about the pollution problem in Hong Kong and how to improve service quality in a bank,' he said.
Meanwhile, other universities have been implementing their push for business creativity in other ways. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's business school for example leverages on the case study approach across its MBA and EMBA programmes to stimulate creative thinking. 'The use of case studies can trigger brainstorming in a non-judgmental environment where students are encouraged to think creatively and express themselves,' said Professor Steven DeKrey, the business school's senior associate dean and MBA programme director.
'What we need in business is not wild ideas, but practical innovation. We believe these skills can be developed with the proper nurturing,' he added.
With cost effectiveness and efficiency no longer able to guarantee a sustainable competitive advantage, today's business environment is increasingly valuing talent that can think differently, and leverage on fleeting opportunities to design, innovate and market high margin products and services.
Professor Farhoomand said: 'Graduates of the new programme will be able to contribute to Hong Kong's efforts to move higher up the global value chain towards the provision of creative design related innovations both for products and services.'