What’s It Like to Be Part of Creative Business Education?
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What’s It Like to Be Part of Creative Business Education?

Creativity: the ability to imagine something new.

Pure creativity: the discovery and development of your root “idea” (Yoon 2015)

Applied creativity: the application of your new idea to give it physical shape in the world.


Can you imagine any other such thing as our golden ticket to survival of society, and of the planet? Creativity is our gateway to see the global problems we face down in the era of high-tech industry from different angles, and then to solve them.

It’s funny how something so essential to our continuation as a species is often marked a luxury and shoved in a side closet, a way to think that’s not critical to our lives and careers but is needed to supplement them with from time to time. Luckily, over the past decades the realization has dawned again that it is our only way out — and upwards.

CEOs view creativity as the most important leadership quality – the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study found this out after surveying 1500 senior executives around the world.

Business schools have busily been developing supplements to their programs that encourage students to develop their holistic, out-of-the-box thinking skills. This is great to see.

What an Innovation Expert Thinks

World-renowned thought leader and executive Jeff DeGraff thinks we need to go one step further: “Creativity is by definition a form of positive deviance: qualitative, divergent, and nonconformist. This presents significant problems. For example, business school faculty members typically lack the real world experience with creativity at work to teach the subject with any credibility. More so, student admissions rely heavily on standardized tests that are not equipped to evaluate the creative potential of applicants. Finally, grading on an objective criteria or curve has little bearing on the relative merits of a student’s creative work. In short, the very institutions that now need to teach creativity are historically designed to eliminate it” (DeGraff 2015).

He believes that “the future of business education is already here and has been for years” (2015), and it’s called innovation. Hands-on work and experience; nothing beats that.

Tribe 15 co-creating their curriculum

This is also the ‘rebel’ association with creativity, which Knowmads harnesses to empower its students to take action. Creativity wants to go its own way; it has enormous drive and a willpower of its own. This drive is what powers Tribes to determine what education they want to receive, design and launch new projects, partner with organizations, try out facilitation, and begin cool new startups.

The Terms, Please

So how are the terms so often associated with Knowmads like ‘non-formal’, ‘alternative’, and ‘creative business’ linked together, functioning like a living organism whose philosophy is alive in its students? And what is a “creative business school”?

For starters, a creative business school is a school that fosters and develops creativity as a means of entry into the business world via entrepreneurial action.

Creativity by definition is something that cannot be taught. Instead it must be nurtured in the right environment, which is what our hands-on, learning-by-doing school provides (hence the ‘alternative’ – an alternative to the typical classroom).

At Knowmads, we practice both pure creativity (the conceptual, prototyping phase) and applied creativity (taking action). This is carried out with a Tribe Project, a personal project, designing a workshop, project for social change, and any other project the students choose to take up.

To stimulate this creativity (bring out the ‘rebel’ so to speak), we first push our students out of their comfort zones. In the program’s second week there is a Scavenger Hunt in which the Tribe is broken into groups and each has a list of tasks that require creative thinking to complete around the city: social experiments, clue-hunting, negotiation, teamwork, and creating unexpected things, ultimately leading them to a secret location.

The Paperclip Challenge, modeled after Kyle McDonald’s One Red Paperclip, is the ultimate entrepreneurial behavior catalyst. The Tribe is split into groups again and each is given a single red paperclip which they must trade for increasingly-larger items to get the most valuable thing by the end of the day.

Of course the Paperclip Challenge is just a warm-up. Next comes a series of challenges in which groups are given one week and a budget of 100€ to make an impact in the world any way they like. Creative engines are roaring away by the end of the week as they decide the whats, hows, and whys of what they will do, and then execute.

Working with pure and applied creativity is indeed a very alternative way of learning. ‘Alternative education’ can be thought of as education carried out in a non-traditional setting that addresses the social, emotional, and academic needs of its students. This is emphasized in the work with head-heart-hands, or getting into alignment with brain, what you’re passionate about, and leaping into action.

As for the ‘informal’ bit? There are no tests, no required hours, just three days at school and two days to work on your projects as you like.

‘Non-Formal’ and ‘Creative Business’ at Knowmads

Kurt from Tribe 15 has put together a list and analysis of his experiences with the ‘non-formal’ and ‘creative business’ aspects, and how they surfaced during his time at the school:

  • No grades
  • No tests
  • No diploma; a tattoo instead (optional)
  • No fixed schedule: students are in charge of creating the schedule
  • The focus is on soft skills rather than hard skills (like math, cost controlling, marketing)
Knowmads imparts knowledge about soft skills (connection, communication, self confidence, authenticity, creativity, self reflection, compassion) by teaching and exposing students to different hard skills within different workshops. Students then integrate both together when working on team or individual projects.
This head-heart-hands concept encourages students to digest and integrate during the two action days of the week.
A diverse group is also fertile grounds for new ideas and perspective shifts: Different backgrounds (countries, ages, cultures) create group dynamics and bring Tribe members out of their comfort zone, which is a potential for growth if they allow it and trust the process and don’t shy away from an uncomfortable situation.
It was magic! I loved it!”

Tribe 8 – Art of Hosting Workshop

Valentina from Tribe 15 had something else to say about where creativity and self-development fit in all this:

I never came for the “creative business” part. I was always into the self-development part, which is very non-formal. 
I wasn’t disappointed at all; it was very much about self-development which I very much enjoyed and still cherish. Yes we had some “business” workshops, which I find good too; it changed my beliefs about business in a very healthy, open, flexible, and yes, CREATIVE way!”


Our Only Hope

Thankfully, our society is getting on the same page now. Creativity cannot be a luxury anymore: It is the only way. Young people want practical tools and processes to change their lives, reshape their mindset, and make an impact. That’s what our Tribes find both within the school space and themselves, and that’s why creative business schooling is so powerful.


Written by Emily Vierthaler

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