The learning and application of creative, innovative and sustainable problem solutions, has always been an important part of The Open University’s MBA programme. „Compared to other MBA programmes, our creativity training is something special,“ says Barbara Wilson, who holds local tutorials on this subject in various European countries.
The learning and application of creative, innovative and sustainable problem solutions, has always been an important part of The Open University’s MBA programme. „Compared to other MBA programmes, our creativity training is something special,“ says Barbara Wilson, who holds local tutorials on this subject in various European countries. Ms Wilson believes these day-long, face-to-face-events, in which MBA students work in groups and apply different creativity techniques to solve real-life case studies from their own companies, are unique to The Open University. In many other MBA programmes, creativity is often dealt with in the context of innovation.
Recently, several companies have developed a higher sensitivity for creative techniques. For example, Robert Bosch GmbH recently implemented in-house seminars to develop a creative way of thinking for improving their internal organisational structure, efficiency and cross-cultural communication.
To develop solutions for a business problem, Open University students are taught various scientific principles of creative thinking and problem solving, such as the Buffalo Method and idea stimulating techniques by Arthur van Gundy, Alex Osborn and Edward De Bono. Out of these theoretical principles from which approximately 150 different techniques are presented during the module, they then choose those that are relevant to their personal situation.
The key elements within the creative process are to identify the real problem in order to start the change management and problem resolution process. This is only possible when managers and their colleagues accept and support creative attitudes and settings. First, MBA students reflect on how they see themselves as creative executives. Second, they learn the scientific techniques and their practical application, which are tested in application-aimed Tutor Marked Assignments. Third, they ask themselves how they will use the learned theories to identify problems in their work and solve them by means of change.
„Unfortunately, it is common in businesses that the real problem is not solved because not enough time is given to diagnosing the issue,“ said Barbara Wilson. A simple example: employees of a company are complaining about the quality of canteen food. A questionnaire by the HR department identifies that employees believe the food is too fatty, contains too much meat and not enough wholesome ingredients. The disappointed chef can prove the opposite. Is this a perceptual error of the employees? No, it is a communication problem instead. If the company had explored the real reason for the problem jointly with its employees, it would have identified the root causes. The employees find the canteen too expensive. In addition, they dislike the disturbing high noise level and perceive the environment with dark furniture uncomfortable. To dismiss the cook would certainly have been the wrong solution. „The example shows that many problems can be hidden defects in companies that nobody recognised,“ explains Barbara Wilson. “Good creative solutions always presuppose that the real problem is explored openly and creatively.”
„The problem with the canteen could also be used as an example in a tutorial to practise creative problem solving techniques such as stakeholder-analysis, brainstorming, imaging, help-and-hinder and bullet-proofing,“ explains Mike Chegwin, an Open University creative thinking tutor in Frankfurt. “Of course there are many possible solutions. It would be practical if employees, management and kitchen staff talk to each other with the help of a facilitator.”
A typical exercise for Open University MBA students in the creativity module is the task ‘strengthen your team for more responsibility’. First, one’s own leadership behaviour is closely examined. Possible self-critical questions are: How do I create a climate that provides more confidence in my department? What is the overall business climate like? How big is the scope to develop my own ideas? Do I offer enough feedback and recognition? What are the prevailing values? Are different cultural attitudes and values appreciated? Do I recognise new ideas and skills of others to a sufficient extent? Are the group members working with passion and empathy? Only after this can one ask what steps are required to provide a more imaginative and flexible way of thinking and acting such as training or flatter hierarchies. This in turn will lead to the development of ideas and innovative results.
For more information: The Open University Business School Representation, Tristan Sage, Zeppelin Straße 73, 81669 Munich, Tel 089/89 70 90 48, E-mail: T. Sage@open.ac.uk or http://www.open.ac./germany
A video-clip from a Munich MBA-tutorial, Barbara Wilson introducing creativity rules: http://www8.open.ac.uk/europe/open-university-business-school-mba-tutorial-munic…