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Publication: Journal of Entrepreneurship Education
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 66515
ISSN: 10988394
Journal code: JNPD


Entrepreneurship is linked to creativity in many ways. Yar Hamidi, Wennberg and Berglund (2008) found that high scores on creativity tests and prior entrepreneurial experiences were positively associated with entrepreneurial intentions and should be included in models of entrepreneurial intent. Fillis and Rentschler (2010) found creativity was critical throughout the entrepreneurship experience from problem identification to leadership and development of the product. They contended that "in today's economy in many parts of the world, it is the creativity of the entrepreneur which offers the best chance of stimulating business" (73). An American Management Association (2010) survey identified creativity and innovation as one of the four skills needed for success today and in the future. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEO's also identified creativity as the No.l "leadership competency of the future" (Bronson and Merryman).

Youl-Lee, Florida, and Acs (2004) posit that entrepreneurship itself "is a form of creativity and can be labeled as business or entrepreneurial creativity because new businesses are original and useful" (p. 882) Golshekoh, Hassan, Gholamreza, Mirsaladin, Askary, and Alireza (2010) consider creativity and innovation inseparable from entrepreneurship. Sarri, Bakouros, and Petridou (2010) emphasized the importance of entrepreneur training in creativity and innovation.

As creativity is a critical skill for the entrepreneur, the question of how it fits in the entrepreneurship program is important. The purpose of this study is to collect data from directors of award winning entrepreneurship undergraduate programs on how important they think creativity is to entrepreneurship programs and how their programs are teaching and assessing creativity to help identify best practices and their implications for the entrepreneurship curriculum. The authors review the general components of creativity, methods of assessment, creativity in entrepreneurship education, and discuss the results of a survey of the directors of successful programs.

What is creativity?

Sternberg and Lubart (1999) defined creativity as the ability to produce work that is both novel and appropriate. This definition relates to the two general approaches to creativity, divergent thinking (generating lots of unique ideas) and convergent thinking (combining these ideas into a best result) (Guilford, 1950). Theorists contend that alternating between divergent and convergent thinking is important as there is a role for both creating new ideas and for validating these ideas (Amabile, 1996; Bronson and Merryman, 2010). Treffinger, Young, Selby, and Shepardson (2002) identify two other components of creativity that are critical for the entrepreneur: "openness and courage to explore ideas" and "listening to one's inner voice". "Openness and courage to explore ideas," referred to as "openness" in the rest of the paper, includes personality traits and relates to interests, experiences, attitudes and self-confidence. They include characteristics such as problem sensitivity, curiosity, sense of humor, risk-taking, tolerance for ambiguity, and adaptability. "Listening to one's inner voice" includes a personal view of self and involves self-reflection, vision, and the traits of perseverance, concentration, energy, and work ethic.

How is creativity taught and assessed?

Although researchers differ in approaches, they do agree that creativity can be enhanced and taught (Treffinger, 2002; Bronson and Merryman, 2010; AMA, 2010). Researchers measure creativity by divergent thinking (creativity tests); attitude, biographical and interest inventories; personality and self-reports/reflection; case studies of successful people or projects; evaluations by peers, judges, instructors, supervisors of individual or team based products (Hocevar, 1981).

The most common method of assessing divergent creativity is the use of divergent thinking (creativity tests), noting that creativity tests, unlike IQ tests, require a multitude of responses rather than a single response. Among the divergent thinking approaches used are the following: the Torrance test, the alternative uses tests (in which subjects are asked to think of alternate uses for a variety of common objects such as a shoe, pencil, etc.), plot title tests (in which subjects are asked to generate clever titles to two stories), and the picture-word test (in which subjects are shown a picture and asked to write as many reactions to the picture as they can in one minute). The reactions in the picture-word test are counted based on the number of ideas or reactions and the variety in type of reactions (e.g. items of senses- sight, taste, feel, sound, products, colors, experiences, etc.). Divergent creativity can be taught through many creative exercises such as mind mapping, brainstorming, and fish-boning (Hocevar, 1981).

Convergent creativity is often tested by assessing creativity through the ratings of peers, instructors, judges or by rating portfolios produced by an individual or group (Lindstrom, 2006). This data can be collected through simulations or real life presentations such as business plan competitions and presentations. Convergent creativity is also taught and measured through the examination of cases and biographies of successful people and developments (Fillis and Rentschler, 2010; Kidane and Harvey, 2009).

"Openness" and "listening to one's inner voice" can be measured or taught through the use of various inventories of interests, personalities, and self-reports/reflection. Examples of inventories of interests are the Guildford-Zimmerman Interest Inventory "creative interests" scale and the Holland and Baird Preconscious Activity Scale. Both inventories ask questions about one's attitudes or approaches to problem solving such as the following, "When I was a kid I was constantly asking questions", "My memory is good", "I like thinking puzzles", or "I read a lot about unrelated topics". Other useful measures are leadership inventory tests, personality tests, problem-solving inventories or creative attitude survey tests. Journaling about one's experiences can also provide awareness.

Creativity in Entrepreneurship Education

Although Timmons (1994) argued that creativity should be central to entrepreneurship education, one of the criticisms of entrepreneurship education is the "lack of creativity and individual thinking required" (Solomon, Weaver, and Fernald, 1994). Yar Harmidi et al (2008) argued that divergent thinking exercises ought to be included in entrepreneurship education. Despite these advocates and the increasing importance of creativity, there is not much information about the creativity in the entrepreneurial curriculum. In a national survey of entrepreneurship programs for 2004-2005, Solomon found that in response to a question asking for popular courses offered only 9% of the 279 respondents from two- and four- year universities and colleges listed a course in creativity. While Solomon's study identifies methods used in teaching entrepreneurship courses, it does not specify which methods are used for specific courses. In fact, most entrepreneurship core courses still focus primarily on writing the business plan/concept, often within specific time periods and templates (Bird, 2002; Solomon, 2007).


Each year Entrepreneur magazine publishes a list of the top twenty-five undergraduate programs. Our sample is comprised of chairs/directors whose programs have made this list at least once in the years 2009, 2010, and 2011. The total sample is thirty-five schools and the schools are listed in Table 1. These programs were chosen as the sample because, although a small group, their programs have been recognized for excellence in entrepreneurship education and should reflect best practices. Additionally, these programs are often used as models for developing programs.

Chairs/directors of these programs were sent a mail survey followed by an email reminder/survey. The survey asked chairs/directors how important they perceived courses in creativity/innovation are to an entrepreneurship program, in what courses in their programs creativity/innovation is taught, what methods are used to teach creativity, and how their programs assess or measure creativity. Twenty-two responses were received from the thirty-five programs for a return rate of 63%. The responses were tabulated and are presented in percentages. For the full survey see the appendix.


Program Details

Of the twenty-two programs responding twelve are private and ten are public institutions. Fifteen of the programs are at universities with a student population of over 10,000; six at universities with student population of 5,001-10,000, and one at a university with a student population of 2,001-5,000. Twenty-one (95%) of the twenty-two programs have an undergraduate major in entrepreneurship and eighteen (81%) have an undergraduate minor in entrepreneurship. Two of the four programs that did not have a minor identified entrepreneurship as an emphasis in the management track. Of the twenty-one programs with a major, in six programs (30%) the major was available to all students at the university and in fifteen programs (68%) only available to school of business students. Of the eighteen programs with minors, in sixteen programs (89%) the minor was available to all students at the university and in two programs (11%) the minor was available to all students except school of business students.

Importance of Creativity/Innovation courses in an entrepreneurship program

Directors were asked to identify how important (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very important and 10 being not very important) it was to include courses in creativity/innovation in an entrepreneurship program. Eighteen of the twenty-two directors (82%) rated including courses in creativity/innovation as very important (13 at 1, 3 at 2, 1 at 3). Two directors (9%) ranked it as moderate in importance (1 at 5 and lat 7) and two directors (9%) ranked it as not very important (1 at 8 and 1 at 10).

Where is creativity/innovation taught in entrepreneurship programs?

Stand- alone courses

Directors were asked if their program had a stand-alone course in the major in creativity/innovation. Of the twenty-one programs with a major fifteen (71%) did have a standalone course (one had a 3 -course sequence for creativity/innovation); six (29%) did not, but one of the six directors indicated they were currently working on one and three directors indicated that creativity/innovation was taught or embedded in several courses in the major. (Table 2) Of the fifteen programs with a stand-alone course, eight (53%) required the class for the major and six of these programs had prerequisites. The prerequisites were: a required freshman course in foundations of management and entrepreneurship; principles of management; intro to entrepreneurship; fundamentals of entrepreneurship; organizational management; and a 3 -course sequence in creativity/innovation.

Directors were asked if they had a stand-alone course on creativity/innovation in their minor. Of the eighteen schools with a minor, eight (44%) have a stand-alone course in creativity /innovation and ten (56%) do not (Table 2). Of the eight programs with a stand-alone course, half required a course. Four of the eight programs had prerequisites for the course: a 3-class sequence in creativity/innovation and a required freshman course in fundamentals of management and entrepreneurship; fundamentals of entrepreneurship; and organizational management. Two of the programs without a stand-alone course indicated that creativity/innovation was taught in several courses.

Courses with units on creativity/innovation

Directors were asked if they have a course or courses with a unit or units on creativity/innovation in their major or minor. Of the twenty one programs with a major, eighteen (86%) had courses with a unit or units on creativity/innovation while three (14%) did not. Fifteen of the eighteen programs (72%) required the course/courses that contained the unit (Table 3). Table 4 lists the required and elective courses within the major that had a unit or units on creativity (Table 4).

Chairs/Directors of programs were asked if their program had a course or courses with a unit or units on creativity/innovation in their minor. Of the eighteen schools with a minor fourteen (78%) have courses including units on creativity/innovation while four (22%) did not. For ten of the fourteen programs with units in a course, the course is required for the minor. Three had courses with units, but the course is not required in the minor (Table 3).

Methods Used to Teach Creativity

Directors/chairs were asked what methods were used to teach creativity. Nineteen of twenty-two directors (86%) responded to this question. Directors could choose all options that applied. The results are listed in order of frequency of use in Table 5.

There was a wide range of methods used in teaching creativity/innovation. Convergent methods were listed most frequently. Eighteen of nineteen programs (95%) used team projects and sixteen of nineteen programs (85%) used individual projects as teaching methods. The team projects were primarily business concepts or business plans. Among the individual projects listed were portfolios of creative works, and an assignment to redevelop an obsolete product into a new product. Creativity exercises which test divergent thinking methods were also cited by fifteen of the nineteen programs ( 19%). Exercises listed were: generating bug reports (things that bug you), mind mapping, Scamper, Snowball and exercises from Michalko's Cracking Creativity. Cases (listed by 63 % of the respondents) were the most varied of the categories. Cases included both divergent exercises such as teaching the use of the metaphor by requiring students to use a toy as a basis for description of him or herself to a partner and then requiring the partner to introduce the person, developing a new game, and convergent thinking exercises by examining the lives of entrepreneurs. In the "other "category eight directors (41%) listed activities such as boot camps, workshops, presentations, videos, guest speakers, simulations, customer and opportunity research (answering the question what is missing in our lives), idea excursions such as to art museums, and multidisciplinary network problem finding exercises.

How is creativity assessed?

Directors/chairs were asked how they assessed creativity development. Again 86% responded to this question. The results are listed in order of frequency of use (Table 6).

Convergent methods of assessment were used most frequently. Fifteen of nineteen programs (79%) used team products, and fourteen of nineteen programs (74%) used team/instructor ratings for assessment. Instructor ratings were made both on individual and team projects. Team ratings of individual members were done mostly on completed projects, but also some for generating and developing ideas. Twelve programs (63%) mentioned portfolios for assessment and these were split with half (32%) looking at individual projects ( convergent thinking) and half (32% identifying a creativity journal in which students completed inventories and self-reflection assessing "listening to one's inner voice" and "openness". Six programs (32%>) also assessed "openness", "listening to one's inner voice", and divergent thinking through creativity tests. Two of these tests/exercises were self-created. One exercise was for the student to create a 12 month plan with activities that would enable the student to explore creative interests based on reading from Jonathan Feinstein' s The Nature of Creative Development. Two programs used the Basadur Applied Creativity test and two used the Creativity Potential Problem Solving Profile. Personality tests were only used by two programs (1 1%) and were not used for assessment, but for students' understanding. The tests used were the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument, the Emotional Competency test, and the Entrepreneurial Profile test. Three programs (16%) used student interviews but did not identify how they were used. Two programs (11%) listed "other" methods such as examining trends from other programs, presentations, prototype/feasibility and problem solving techniques.


The goal of this study was twofold. First, to provide some best practices on how creativity/innovation is valued, taught, and assessed in top undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. This information is valuable in providing direction for developing entrepreneurship programs or for evaluating existing entrepreneurship curriculum. Second, to discuss what concerns/ issues are raised about the entrepreneurship curriculum.

The first major issue was the importance of creativity in the curriculum and where it should be taught. The results show that inclusion of courses, stand-alone and as units in other courses, on creativity/innovation is perceived as very important in the entrepreneurship curriculum by (82%) of program directors/chairs. A majority of programs (71%) have standalone courses in their major and 44% in their minor, much higher than the 9% in Solomon's 2007 nationwide study of programs. Additionally, 86% have units on creativity/innovation in courses in their entrepreneurship major and 78% have courses with units in their minor. The most frequent course for unit/units on creativity is the Intro/Foundations of Entrepreneurship (a beginning course in the program). This was the course most frequently offered by 53% of the respondents in Solomon's (2007) study. Several programs offered units in more than one course.

Overall, combining the stand-alone courses and courses with units on creativity, seventeen programs (80%) require some training in creativity in their major and twelve programs 61%) require some training in creativity in their minor. Two programs (10%) offer course work in creativity but do not require it. Only two programs (10%) do not offer any course work on creativity in their major and four programs (22%) do not offer course work on creativity in their minor. These findings indicate that creativity training should be included in the entrepreneurship curriculum.

While these findings support creativity in the curriculum, the question of whether creativity should be taught as a stand-alone course, a unit in several courses, or both remains. Stand-alone courses can identify the importance of creativity in a more prominent way then a unit in a course does. Stand-alone courses allow the instructor to use a broad range of approaches. However, Morrison and Johnston (2003) argue that creativity should be introduced into the curriculum systematically rather than using a stand-alone course. Units in several courses can reinforce the value of creativity throughout a program. Friedlan (1995) found, in a study of accounting students, that when other skills were integrated into accounting courses students perceived them as more important than when the skills were taught in stand-alone courses. We would contend that creativity should be integrally involved in the entrepreneurship program both as a stand-alone course and integrated in courses throughout the program. This is the approach twelve (57%) of the award winning programs used.

The second major issue was how creativity was taught and assessed in the curriculum. Convergent creativity was taught through team projects in 95 % of the programs and individual projects in 85%. Divergent creativity taught through creativity exercises in 79% of the programs was also high. Additionally, cases used by 63% of the programs were split between convergent and divergent creativity methods. However, there is no discussion of teaching "openness" or "listening to one's inner self. In assessing creativity the picture becomes more uneven. Methods evaluating convergent creativity again dominated with team products used by 79% of the programs and team/instructor ratings used in 74%. Additionally, in half of the programs using portfolios (32%) the portfolio was of individual work focusing on convergent evaluation. Although a large portion of time was spent teaching divergent thinking, there was not as much focus on assessing divergent creativity. Only half of the programs (32%) reporting using creativity exercises and creativity tests which highlight divergent thinking, "openness" and listening to one's inner voice" as a form of assessment. Additionally, only 1 1% of the programs used personality test for assessment, primarily to expand self-reflection in "listening to one's inner voice. While 16% of the programs used students interviews for assessment, there is no information on what type of questions were asked.

These findings raise some concerns about the entrepreneurship curriculum. First, is the emphasis in assessing creativity focusing on convergent thinking by relying heavily on team/individual projects and evaluation the best approach? Does this approach send a message to students that creativity is more about problem solving as opposed to problem finding (identifying issues) and then solving them? Fillis and Rentscheller (2010) indicated that creativity is important throughout the entrepreneurial process. Additionally, recent studies show a serious drop in divergent thinking scores on the Torrance tests for U.S. students (Bronson and Merryman, 2010). Problem finding methods need to be a larger part of the assessment process to demonstrate their importance in the process. Finally, there is not much assessment on the two creativity characteristics of "openness" and "listening to one's inner voice", both essential to entrepreneurship. This type of self-reflection and idea generation is important and needs to be reinforced throughout the process.

The second issue is this type of convergent assessment focuses more on lateral thinking and less on one's approaches to creativity. We wonder if the real value in a course in creativity lies in challenging one's approach to solving problems so that students can generate not only new ideas, but also adapt to new/different approaches to problem solving? For example, in order to work in the global culture identified in the AMA study the ability to think and problem solve in different ways is essential. Different cultures as well as different fields approach creativity in different ways. For example Eastern cultures favor more holistic than analytic approaches to conflict, negotiation, problem solving and problem finding than Western cultures (Choi, Koo, and Choi, 2007; Martin and Nakayama, 2007; Ting-Toomey, 2005). This means that Eastern cultures may favor a more circular approach to generating ideas, such as the Lotus Blossom technique, than the linear approach of Western cultures, such as a force field analysis. Berglund and Wennberg (2006) found differences even between fields within cultures. In their study of engineering and business students from the same culture and in the same entrepreneurship program, there were differences in creative approaches. Creativity develops the ability to be comfortable with the new or ambiguous and see things through varying perspectives. In building a program it is critical to provide a wide range of approaches to and assessment of various creativity approaches to ensure students are prepared for today's business climate. This may mean that programs and instructors may have to change or expand their approaches to teaching and assessing creativity.


One limitation of our study is that it was sent to directors/chairs. These directors/chairs may not be teaching the class and may not know the methods for teaching or assessment. In fact two directors sent the form to the faculty person teaching the courses to fill out this section of the survey and three directors did not fill out this section. Additionally, the questions on teaching and assessment may not have provided enough options to clearly identify all the methods used. For example, several directors checked creativity exercises or individual projects, but did not indicate what type of exercises or projects. Future studies should do more follow up through interviews to clarify if these exercises or projects were more directed toward divergent, convergent, or openness to ideas/listening to one's inner voice forms of creativity, as well as to provide more examples other instructors could use.

This study provides a start at identifying some guidelines and best practices for programs. Training in creativity should be included and, given the findings, should be required in programs, especially for the major. Furthermore, in teaching and assessing creativity, exercises and projects should include all types of creativity: divergent, convergent, "openness", and "listening to one's self (self-reflection). Future studies should focus on more information about specific courses, particularly the stand-alone courses and required course units, and the teaching and assessment methods used in programs. This information would be helpful to be sure entrepreneurship programs are adapting to the needs of the twenty-first century and fully developing future entrepreneurs' potential.


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Author affiliation:

Jacqueline J. Schmidt, John Carroll University

John C. Soper, John Carroll University

Jill Bernaciak, John Carroll University

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