“I think that we would both say everybody has creativity. The resource is there to produce creative ideas. In Laura’s class, she actually teaches the creative process.”
Professor of Marketing
Laura Buchholz, Robert Smith and Adam Duhachek teach undergraduate marketing courses.
“You know how you go class, turn in your assignment, and they all look the same? Well, in this class, that's how you know you did it wrong.”
Senior Lecturer of Marketing
Elaborate, curious, original... do these words describe you? They are a few indicators of creativity that could describe you, even if you answered “no”—according to the husband-and-wife faculty team of Robert Smith and Laura Buchholz.
Smith, a professor of marketing who teaches courses in consumer behavior, and Buchholz, senior lecturer of marketing who teaches courses in creativity and communications, collaborate on creativity research. They have been working together on the Kelley faculty for 11 years. Both have received numerous awards, and recently the 2009 Most Memorable Faculty Award.
The New Competitive Edge
Read any top business magazine and the trends show a growing demand for the creative, innovative employee who is equally facile working with both sides of the brain. Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind describes an evolution from the information age to the conceptual age, where right brain aptitudes, such as design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning are what employers now need, given the oversaturation of left-directed thinkers. Titles such as Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Inspiration Officer and Chief Innovation Officer are becoming more common and are proof that companies are shifting their emphasis from process and quality control to creativity and empathy as a key competitive edge.
According to Smith and Buchholz creativity can be measured and the skills that enable it can be taught. “I think that we would both say everybody has creativity. The resource is there to produce creative ideas. In Laura’s class, she actually teaches the creative process,” says Smith. And the Kelley School is a pioneer in requiring undergraduate marketing students to take courses in creativity and communication—and has been doing this for more than a decade.
“Students get a little nervous about having to be creative,” Buchholz says. “The way I frame it is: I’m not going to teach you creativity. I’m going to teach you these skills, the indicators—if you perform these behaviors, creativity usually follows.” She noted that students who score the lowest on creativity tests are the ones who respond the most—and “close the gap” once they learn the skills.
Smith explains, “Theoretically, all humans are born with a divergent production system in the brain. This is research done in the 1950’s by Joy Paul Guilford. He was very interested in the relationship between creativity and standard intelligence tests. He felt that standard intelligent tests only measured the convergent production systems—the ability of people to follow others’ ideas and do what everybody else is doing. But the divergent production system is where we come up with unusual—creative ideas. And everybody has a divergent production system, but some people have more of it than others.”
Smith and Buchholz demonstrate their passion for creativity in various ways, including their non-traditional approach to teaching. Students are encouraged to be authentic and follow their own intrinsic goals. They are rewarded for being creative and even get to choose how their grade is configured. An emphasis on performance-based learning gives them practice with real-world business projects, where they “learn by doing” working with actual business clients.
Students also learn how to work with ambiguity, where the purpose of something is difficult to interpret or open to more than one interpretation. “I always assign their final project on ‘Ambiguity Day’—the day we discuss how to deal with ambiguity. The goal in this class is that we're working toward more than one interpretation," Buchholz says. “You know how you go class, turn in your assignment, and they all look the same? Well, in this class, that's how you know you did it wrong,” she explains.
Students Learn What Really Matters
Kristin Morris discovered her passion for creativity and marketing while taking Buchholz' class. “I wasn't sure what I would major in and sort of ended up in marketing because I knew finance and accounting really weren't for me,” she says. “So, I took Laura's class and it opened my mind to all these things I’m really interested in—like I love typography and am always looking for new fonts. And I really care about good design... I’m really excited to pursue a career that I’m passionate about," she adds.
For Laura Cunningham, her marketing education has been invaluable. “The things that we’ve learned are really pertinent... in this economy and even in the future you can’t just be another worker—you have to be ‘the worker’—have that something extra that makes you more valuable than the next person,” she explains. “With skills in design and layout, and understanding of client-service that you get in Laura’s class, and understanding the analysis part that you get in marketing research, like in Adam's class, and the understanding of yourself, how you act, how clients act and how you treat them that you get in Bob’s class... they’re things that even if you're not in marketing are important. I feel like if I hadn't had them, I could potentially be the ‘next person’ and not stand out,” she adds.
Drew Beaver, who majors in marketing and operations sees the intrinsic benefits from his experience. “What's been really great in our classes with Laura and Bob—they really do challenge you and push you to not only think about the material harder and within the realm of marketing and in the classroom, but beyond that—into your life and with what really matters to you,” he says.
Research Informs Teaching
Through their research collaboration, Smith and Buchholz inform their teaching, while building thought leadership among their peers. Their 2007 paper “Modeling the Determinants and Effects of Creativity in Advertising” was published in Marketing Science. Along with co-authors Scott MacKenzie, Xiaojing Yang (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and William Darley (University of Toledo), they explore what determines whether consumers find a television ad creative and the effects of exposure to creative ads. They found that consumer perception of creativity was determined by the combination of divergence (i.e. originality) and relevance (usefulness to the consumer). They also found that overall creativity favorably affects how consumers process and respond to ads.
Smith has two other recent pieces on creativity as well. “Beyond Attention Effects: Modeling the Persuasive and Emotional Effects of Advertising Creativity,” written with Yang will appear in Marketing Science in 2009. And “The Impact of Advertising Creativity on the Hierarchy-of-Effects,” written with Yang and Kelley marketing doctoral student Jiemiao Chen, appeared in the Journal of Advertising’s special issue on advertising creativity in Winter 2008.