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Galina Shirokova: 'Creativity and Imagination Help in Any Career'

Lecturers from HSE University-St Petersburg and the University of Oregon (US) have designed a course aimed at developing creativity in business activities. Galina Shirokova, Professor at the Department of Management, talks about the course and shares her plans to develop imagination and creative thinking within the St Petersburg School of Economics and Management.

Galina Shirokova

Galina Shirokova
HSE University-St Petersburg

The English-taught course 'Imagination and Creative Thinking' was designed by Galina Shirokova (HSE University-St Petersburg) and Violetta Gerasimenko (the University of Oregon) with the support of the American Councils for International Education foundation. The course was tested within the Master's programmes of the St Petersburg School of Economics and Management (SEM) as a part of the course 'Entrepreneurship'.

How did the project partnership with the University of Oregon start?

— Any project starts with an idea. The idea came to Violetta Gerasimenko, my colleague and co-author from the University of Oregon. It was she who found the American Councils for International Education, which supports cooperation between Russia and the USA in the field of higher education. I have to say that our project wasn't the first at HSE University-St Petersburg to be supported by this fund: in the 2020/21 academic year, they supported educational cooperation between HSE University-Perm and Ohio University.

Violetta suggested applying to create a joint course in the development of creativity in business, as she already had experience designing similar courses. This was very useful in terms of both methodological developments and implementing experience—we have learned a lot from our American colleagues. We applied at the end of 2021, received confirmation of the support at the beginning of 2022, and spent the whole spring developing the course. Fortunately, international complexities did not end our cooperation.

What did you end up with as a result?

— We designed the 28-academic-hour course 'Imagination and Creative Thinking' and were going to test it during the annual summer school. Unfortunately, the summer school was not held this year. That's why we had a 'Plan B' and introduced some elements of our course into the Master's programme as a part of another course in entrepreneurship.

From the Russian side, Emilia Karpinskaya (who delivers the course in entrepreneurship for bachelor's students) and Nailia Galieva, my PhD students, took part in designing the course with me. We created a big collection of various games, tasks, and simulations to develop creative thinking. During the classes, we use the 'experiential learning' approach, which means learning in practice: there are few lectures, but a lot of active communication, games, and, most importantly, the students are constantly doing something with their hands. Doing something with your hands is very important: if you just tell people the information, they will forget it very quickly. But if you 'live this process through', the learning process goes differently: associative thinking is used, the knowledge is supported by examples and so on. For instance, one of the tasks was to create an aircraft and present it. It is practically a game which lasts for the whole double class.

How does the process of teaching creative thinking go?

— Unconventionally. Though you can't call our course in entrepreneurship conventional either. The course welcomed an international team: there was an approximately equal number of Russian and international students from different programmes. This means that we gathered people who were shaped in different environments and had different goals. Thanks to that, they had a very strong competitive spirit. The students started by introducing themselves and talking about up-to-date innovative business ideas that appealed to them and wanted to implement for the good of society. We formed teams of four to five people around the ideas which ​struck a ​chord, and then within two months, they worked on the project to implement these ideas.

They were truly interesting! For instance, a team of students from Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia and Brazil developed NFT-ON, a project related to digital art that envisages NFTs not just as an asset, but a working tool which gives owners a whole series of consumer benefits. Two projects, also international, were based on the interconnection of travelling and impressions: with the help of the project 'Maya Coffee', representatives of Kyrgyzstan and Guatemala offered the taste of coffee as a tool for travelling and new impressions. The project 'AirMagine' (Russia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tajikistan) chose AR or VR technologies as such a tool. The teams of two other projects were fully Russian. They developed SaaS for optimising work in the hotel sector (Fidgets) and a social network for entrepreneurs, mentors and investors (busy.ru).

Unconventional projects require unconventional approaches and unexpected decisions. We met once a week and discussed in detail one element of the project work: how to make a business concept, present and test it, how to create and test a business model, how to evaluate a project's feasibility and analyse the ecosystem. Each time, I supplemented my speech with exercises on a certain topic. The teams gradually developed their projects, created landing pages, and collected feedback from potential consumers. The studies finished with project presentations. They had to prove that it was a truly realistic project that is important to people. As a matter of fact, there are no good or bad business ideas. Some of them turn into a working business, and others don't.

Did you have to persuade the students that creativity was important?

— In the course of studies, we didn't feel any resistance; quite the opposite—concentration and interest. As it was a test of a new product, at the end of the studies, we conducted a survey of students to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the course in Entrepreneurship in general and try to single out the elements related to the development of imagination and creative thinking in order to improve them in the future.

The findings proved our impressions. All the students mentioned that they valued what they had learned about entrepreneurial and creative thinking. In addition, 85% highlighted the teamwork, case studies and creative exercises. More than 86% agreed that our course had taught them to think more creatively and use entrepreneurial thinking to find new opportunities.

What will happen next?

— We are planning to continue working on our project. The next stage will be designing a research seminar on strategic entrepreneurship for PhD students where we will teach them to use the elements of creativity and imagination in their research work. In order to do this, we will make another application to the American Councils for International Education. As for the designed course, firstly, we are considering including it as a separate course in the curriculum of the programme 'International Bachelor's in Business and Economics' in the third and fourth years of study. Secondly, I think it would be useful to include this project in the academic track of several SEM Master's programmes.

I am interested in the broad implementation of this course because I am sure that creativity and imagination can help you in any career: entrepreneurial, administrative and academic.