Home Alumni Costumes, scavenger hunts, and creativity in business

Costumes, scavenger hunts, and creativity in business

As many students in Aliber Hall weigh cost-benefit analyses, forge business plans, and perform financial audits, something altogether different is going on in Timothy Johnson’s graduate-level Creativity for Business course.

A young lady dressed as Phoebe Buffay, from NBC’s hit series Friends, strums a guitar, leading a class-wide rendition of “Smelly Cat.”

This sing-along may seem out of place, but Johnson, an adjunct instructor of business, says his in-class activities add a necessary and often overlooked component to the traditional business curriculum.

“Students don’t know how to channel creativity, they don’t teach that,” Johnson says. “We spend much of our education unlearning creativity.”

One innovative exercise is “costume presentation day,” when students come dressed in wild attire to explain how their costumes relate to business principles.

“On the first night of class, I tell students that ‘I won’t knock you out of your comfort zone—I’ll drop kick you,’” Johnson says.

For Johnson’s students, the course encourages a back-to-basics approach to the business world.

“It takes you back to thinking like you did as a kid when you had no fear or barriers limiting your potential,” says Katie Langel, manager of annual giving at Des Moines University and a student in Johnson’s class.

Unlike traditional courses, much of the learning in Creativity for Business happens outside the classroom, in such unexpected places as Des Moines shopping centers, where students must go on a scavenger hunt, later presenting their findings to the class.

Lessons also come from unlikely sources—for example, an investigator from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation who shows real crime scene photos to illustrate the necessity of creative thinking.

Even students who haven’t yet completed the course are able to apply its principles to work in their careers.

“I will use the knowledge gained from this class to continue to look past typical fundraising practices and develop new ways to appeal to alumni and potential donors,” Langel says.

The costume parties and trips to the mall also provide lasting learning for graduates who build their careers based on creative business principles.

“I recently heard from one former student who got a grant because of the creative strategies she learned in the class,” Johnson says. “I’m passionate about it because I see the long term aspects. It’s very rewarding.”

Abbey Barrow, class of 2015