Teaching “Creativity & Business”

Written by Tom Tresser http://www.tresser.com

On Saturday, January 15, I started teaching “Got Creativity? Strategies & Tools for the Next Economy” [http://tomsclasses.wordpress.com/creativity-business] at the Stuart School of Business at the Illinois Institute of Technology [http://stuart.iit.edu].

I’ve got twenty students, almost evenly divided between those born in the USA and those born abroad (China, India, Saudi Arabia).

I’ve been working on the idea for this class for almost twenty years. I first proposed such a class to Roosevelt University in 1993. I used to be a Shakespearean actor and theater producer. I became an arts activist and ran around the country trying to get artists and cultural workers involved in politics and public life. It struck me how poorly understand were the domains of culture and creativity by the general public. Certainly the powerful and movers and shakers in politics and business did not have much of an understanding or appreciation for the arts. I tried to bridge the gaps between the cultural arena and the arena of politics and commerce. I first created a class on “Public Policy & The Arts” for Roosevelt University in 1991 and taught it to students of their Public Administration, Public Policy, and Theater Programs (you could definitely tell who was who by looking out at the students!).

Over the years I have been fairly successful in interesting schools in Chicago to let me teach variations of that class – “The Artist as Activist,” “How To Be A Cultural Activist,” “The Politics of Creativity,” “International Creativity Policy,” and “Acting Up – Using Theater & Technology for Social Change.” These have been taught at departments of art, political science, public service, communications and psychology.

My argument to business schools was that their students needed to master the levers and distinctions of creativity because of the way our economy has evolved. We now live in what has been variously called The Creative Economy, The Experience Economy and the Age of Creative Industries. It’s no secret that America makes more money and employs more people in the creative sectors than it does from making and moving iron or stuff.

The total revenue of the U.S. copyright industries in 2007 was $1.5 TRILLION. [http://www.iipa.com/copyright_us_economy.html] That’s 1 point 5 followed by 12 zeros! In 2005 the U.S. copyright industries had foreign sales of about $110 billion. That dwarfed the foreign sales for the U.S. auto industry, which was about $70 billion.

My argument was and is – that America’s artists, artisans, designers and creative professionals are a powerful force that should be studied, respected, supported and nourished.

Certainly this is a topic that young managers and entrepreneurs should know about. Over time a number of business writers have explored this subject and academia has warmed to the idea that creativity is a serious topic worthy of analysis, study and policy formulation.

It was thanks to Krishna Erramilli, Professor of Marketing and Director of IIT Stuart MBA, Environmental Management and Sustainability, and Marketing Communication Programs, that I finally got my chance to teach a class on creativity at a business school. [http://www.stuart.iit.edu/about/faculty/krishna_erramilli.shtml]

And so, after the students introduced themselves to one another using short PowerPoint presentations, I started my first performance. You can hear the first 13 minutes of this part of the class by clicking over to Evoca.com. I told the story of a master story teller whose amazing powers of creativity have moved tens of millions of people and caused them to spend almost $20 billion to experience this story in its various forms.  [http://bit.ly/hWdUGT]

I read this:

Do you know where this is from. Sure you do. If you haven’t read it yourself, then your child, nephew, niece, grandchild, neighbor HAS surely read and enjoyed the magic of the Harry Potter series.

We talked about WHY this series of seven books has been such a sensation and why the stories have captivated so many people – selling over 400 million copies in 63 languages.

“Imagination.” “Great story.” “Hype.” “Universality.” These were a few of the thoughts the students had. One student said that J.K. was able to get inside the heads of her characters. “Ah, ha, “ I said, “What do you call it when you can see the world through the eyes of another?” “Empathy,” came the answer.


The power of a great story. The power of the imagination. The power of words to give life to the riches of the imagination. These things powered the economic transactions that followed as this story was translated into so many forms and offered to the public.

I urged the students to watch Ms. Rowlings’ 2008 commencement address to the undergraduates at Harvard University. This fantastic (and funny) 20 minute speech is a lesson on the benefits of failure and the need to give voice to your imagination. It is also pays tributes to the work of Amnesty International and offers words of wisdom on friendship. [http://www.ted.com/talks/jk_rowling_the_fringe_benefits_of_failure.html]

So I opened my first class on “Creativity+Business” with a story on the power of stories – on the power of the creative act. How someone created a fantastically successful entertainment enterprise from a few notebooks and an unlimited reservoir of imagination and persistence.

Let the journey begin…

Tom Tresser is an organizer, educator and strategic planning consultant. He was the Green Party candidate for Cook County Board President in the November 2010 election. [http://www.treser.com]

Creative Commons License
Resource Center for Arts Entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur The Arts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.EntrepreneurTheArts.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.EntrepreneurTheArts.com.