“Every one of us wakes up in the morning with creative ideas,” says Management Professor Lisa Gundry, director of DePaul's Center for Innovation. “A lot of us think about how we can be better at our jobs or improve our workplace, but if no one embraces that creativity, all those ideas are lost.”
Gundry has taught entrepreneurship since she began at DePaul, and developed one of the first creativity and innovation business classes in the nation—one that she still teaches to this day, albeit with a few innovations in the way it is taught. However, Gundry’s history of creativity and innovation goes back long before she taught it.
In high school, Gundry was hired by a data processing company that used key punching—stiff cards with holes punched into them representing data. The cards are then fed into a machine for the data to be collated. As a budding young entrepreneur, Gundry realized that she could use the skills she learned and form her own data processing company. The venture helped put her through college, and at the same time, sparked her interest in the intersection between technology and innovation. In graduate school, she became interested in social science and she studied organization theory to earn her PhD.
“I have always been interested in cultures that support entrepreneurial behavior,” says Gundry. “What is it that makes organizations more entrepreneurial and how can they strengthen this culture as they grow? That guides my research today.”
Her research focuses on the drivers of innovation, how teams innovate from the idea phase through implementation, entrepreneurial growth strategies and the neuroscience of creativity. Another area of her scholarship centers on bricolage, which is creating something new by combining things that already exist. Gundry says this is what entrepreneurs do, what innovators do, and is at the heart of innovation. “I believe that everyone can be creative and innovative and those are skills I like to help my students develop.”
Bringing Creativity in the Classroom
Gundry teaches creativity and entrepreneurship at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her courses have become more popular over the years, attracting computer science, communications and science majors as well as business students.
“The variety of students’ interests and professional backgrounds makes for an incredible classroom environment,” says Gundry. “Each student brings their personal experience and professional aspirations into the classroom, and watching them work together in teams and bringing innovations to life is inspiring.”
From the first day of class, students get together in small groups and share their interests and hobbies. The small groups develop a new venture idea -- a new idea that could bring value to the marketplace -- based on the discussion of interests and hobbies. Gundry says that getting to know each team member is the foundation of becoming a creative team. Each person’s life experiences can be used to solve organizational problems.
Gundry takes students in her graduate course to the Art Institute of Chicago every term. Gundry assigns students a business scenario—such as financing or marketing a new venture, or introducing a new product into the marketplace. Students choose several works of art that inspire them to come up with solutions for the scenario. They use a tool that Gundry developed called ArtWork to examine the business challenge through the framework of visual arts.
“The point of the exercise is that in the business world, people communicate mostly in writing or verbally,” says Gundry. “Our visualization skills are underdeveloped and underutilized, so students see that creative cues can come from an unexpected place as we step away from the problem and allow our ideas to incubate. It’s often how our most creative ideas emerge.”
Another way Gundry brings creativity into the classroom is through ideation sessions, which involve user-design thinking tools. It is a customer-centered exercise where Gundry partners with local businesses that are looking for student-generated ideas to provide a solution to a problem.
“Every quarter brings something different and unique,” Gundry says. “Students don't have to be experts in the particular industry of the guest organization; what they have become good at is taking creative and innovation tools learned throughout the quarter and applying them to any challenge or opportunity that a business brings.”
Creating Opportunities with the DePaul Innovation Center
To connect DePaul and students with the business innovation community, Gundry helped form the Center for Innovation at DePaul. The center offers workshops, seminars and other programming for individuals and teams in organizations. Participants learn to apply creativity skills and innovation best practices to developing new products, services and technologies that they can bring to market.
For students, the center supports an Innovation Lab that features 3-D printing services to prototype new products and ideas to enter into competitions such as the annual Student Innovation Awards. Students also have the opportunity to participate in workshops, go to seminars and join the Design Thinking Group, a new extracurricular student organization.
Building a Pipeline with the Design Thinking Group
The Design Thinking Group provides students with long- and short-term opportunities to collaborate with external clients on solving business challenges through design thinking, the process of getting inside the user or customer experience to solve a problem, including discovering and prototyping solutions.
“I am thrilled that that so many entrepreneurs and innovators want to work with the center,” says Gundry. “These are people who are already great at what they do, but they want to ensure the creativity pipeline continues. The Design Thinking student group creates a culture that fosters creativity in our students and teaches how to bring design thinking into any business scenario.”
The Importance of Creativity in the Workplace
To Gundry, creativity is not optional for business and organizations. She believes that students who take her class will be able to add a lot of value to their future workplace.
“Creativity and innovation are not only processes for businesses to come up with new ideas,” says Gundry. “Today, it’s a question of survival. Your organization simply won’t be around long if you are not thinking about what you ought to be bringing to your customers and what complex problems you will need to solve. The good news is there are so many ways we can tap into our creativity and find those breakthrough solutions that make a difference to the marketplace and society.”
Learn more about DePaul's M.S. in Entrepreneurship.
Learn more about DePaul's MBA in Entrepreneurship.