Four Ways To Foster Creative Thinking in Student Entrepreneurs While Developing Their Problem-Solving Skills

IUSE problem solving; two students looking at a piece of paper

Through the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) workshop series, funded by the National Science Foundation, social scientists collaborated with entrepreneurship educators to bridge the gap between their areas of expertise. The resulting white papers provide research-based insights and classroom techniques for inclusive entrepreneurship educators. This ongoing series currently covers Teamwork, Motivation, Critical Thinking, and Problem-Solving. Stay tuned for more topics!

“Idea generation involves producing a wide range of possible solutions, while evaluation entails critically examining and selecting the most promising ideas.”—Roger Beaty, Nathalie Duval-Couetil

Part of being an entrepreneur means anticipating and innovating for the future. This begins with generating ideas, an essential part of the creative thinking process, and evaluating those ideas in order to produce the best possible solutions to complex challenges. Student entrepreneurs must learn how to examine the feasibility, practicality, and potential impact of their innovations, while at the same time allowing their creativity to flourish. It can be a challenging balance to strike, both for students and for entrepreneurship educators who work to ensure their students’ inventions are both novel and realistic.

By teaching problem-solving skills, educators equip students to develop their creative thinking within a real-world context and ultimately be more successful in their entrepreneurship endeavors.

In their new white paper, Roger Beaty and Nathalie Duval-Couetil have outlined four practical ways to integrate creative thinking and problem-solving into the curriculum.

Download the full white paper “Theoretical Perspectives on Creative Thinking for Problem Solving: Implications for Entrepreneurship Education Research and Practice.”

Roger Beaty, assistant professor of Psychology at Penn State University
Nathalie Duval-Couetil, director of University Entrepreneurship Education Initiatives at Purdue University

1. Adopt a Flex-Based Learning Approach

Entrepreneurial puzzles can be solved in many ways, and “flex-based” learning—or flex experiments—are an effective way to foster creativity and problem-solving. This develops student accountability and flexibility, offering a balanced approach to teaching entrepreneurship. Try activities like establishing connections between two very different topics, which encourages out-of-the-box thinking.

Fundamentally, it’s all about being able to visualize and test any given hypothetical scenario. “Promoting imagination, or the ability to create mental images, is an important skill,” write Beaty and Duval-Couetil.

2. Encourage Students To Strengthen Their Self-Awareness

By examining and better understanding their internal thought processes, students can learn to appreciate—and cultivate—the ability to evaluate their own ideas. Encourage students to critique and refine their ideas, while also offering constructive criticism and feedback to their peers. This is a form of self-reflection, and can help the development of their problem-solving skills.

“As students become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, they can adjust their strategies and make more informed decisions when tackling entrepreneurial challenges,” write Beaty and Duval-Couetil.

3. Integrate Divergent Thinking Tests Into the Curriculum

A common way to measure creativity is through divergent thinking tests. These are evaluations that present open-ended problems, prompting students to generate as many ideas as they can within a set time frame. This can be presented through assignments like brainstorming activities or challenges, encouraging students to develop new products or services on the fly.

“By engaging in these activities, students not only practice generating creative ideas, but also learn to work collaboratively and listen to diverse perspectives,” write Beaty and Duval-Couetil. These are essential skills for all budding entrepreneurs and can grow their ability to problem-solve under pressure.

4. Promote Confidence in Problem-Solving Through Persistence

In many respects, being an entrepreneur is about taking risks. By fostering experimentation and persistence despite setbacks, educators prepare students to face real-world challenges. “This confidence in their creative abilities can enhance their motivation and willingness to tackle complex problems in entrepreneurship,” write Beaty and Duval-Couetil.

It’s important to provide opportunities for creative thinking within a supportive environment and to offer feedback while also highlighting progress and achievement. Students can benefit from reading about and hearing directly from entrepreneurs who have overcome their own challenges, further underscoring the importance of problem-solving skills in any industry.

Dig into the research and get more insights and classroom tools. Download the full white paper “Theoretical Perspectives on Creative Thinking for Problem Solving: Implications for Entrepreneurship Education Research and Practice.”

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under IUSE Grant No. 2220329.

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