Creativity and entrepreneurship appear to go hand-in-hand. We hear these buzzwords everywhere, particularly in education and learning research. Still, the common belief is that “creative” people are born with a special gift or ability and that creativity makes successful entrepreneurs. Of course, some of the best-known entrepreneurs are highly creative, but the correlation is not necessarily causation. While creativity may lead some down the path of entrepreneurship, I’m convinced the opposite is true as well—the entrepreneurial process develops and nurtures creativity.
Creativity is much more than the ability to generate novel or “out-of-the-box” ideas. We’ve all had ideas for something new… a new tool or a solution to a problem. Ideas are easy, but we seldom act on those ideas. Harder still is turning action into something real (a device, an artwork, a service, etc.). But that’s what creativity is, the understanding of how to create— how to go from an idea, to action, to making or expressing something original. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s not magic, either. It is a skill, once learned, that can serve young people well throughout their education, their careers, and their lives.
In fact, creativity can be taught and learned, not through a lunchtime seminar or brain games, but through practice. By engaging in the entrepreneurial process through the Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, SCH students gain this practice while pursuing their interests. Some entrepreneurship programs and competitions focus solely on “the pitch”— the superficial presentation of an idea. Like Shark Tank, it’s a show, and if you present well, you’ll be rewarded (a prize or investment capital).
Although learning to pitch is important, at CEL it is the outcome of a much deeper interrogation: What are the underlying causes of a problem or challenge? What are potential solutions? Which of those solutions can be feasibly implemented? And what will those implementations take? The process is about transforming a potential solution into something concrete and following the myriad steps that it will take to move from concept to design to prototype to solution. Oftentimes, the final artifact isn’t even close to the original concept, but the process necessarily shapes thoughts into a tangible and more useful form. Through CEL, all SCH students develop an understanding of this pathway from concept to construct. They learn how to create.
In education at all levels, we tend to group learning into distinct subjects and disciplines. But our lives and livelihoods aren’t organized like that; they’re messy and require us to cross boundaries. Similarly, the path from idea to implementation involves multiple skills and disciplines. Some ideas are best expressed through words and text. Most projects will also require drawings, photographs, and visualization, perhaps precisely drafted design specifications. Some will use music and sound to evoke a particular feeling. A project may require specific knowledge of biology, engineering, climate science, or a social issue. For SCH students, these investigations naturally and authentically lead them to deeper explorations of the disciplines, knowledge, and facilities available at SCH. It’s one thing to be told a field or area of knowledge will “be important.” It’s entirely different to discover why it’s important for solving a problem you’re invested in. Expertise matters, and the entrepreneurial process challenges students to more fully understand what they know and what they don’t.
What we’ve found in many examples in academia, research, and industry is that new ideas and impactful discoveries happen frequently when you cross the boundaries between disciplines, for example, when you combine scientific and artistic thinking. At the turn of the millennium, few imagined such concepts as “social media” or “smartphones,” but they permeate our lives today. They both are the result of the intersection of technology with the human need to connect, create, and express ourselves. The creative process is necessarily interdisciplinary. From my experiences as a university educator, I can tell you it’s rare for students to enter college with the ability to harness knowledge from different subjects in order to translate an idea into an implementation. CEL provides students with a unique window into understanding and applying this interdisciplinary knowledge. It empowers them to develop their own ways of expressing their ideas.
While it’s hard to believe CEL is already in its 10th year, at the same time it’s difficult for me to imagine SCH without it. It has become a distinctive and essential part of an SCH education. Like the school’s groundbreaking and prescient adoption of robotics and new media into its curriculum, CEL is an expression of the school’s commitment to push the boundaries of learning forward. SCH is an engine of innovation. Sci-fi author William Gibson wrote, “the future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed,” meaning that some lucky folks get a glimpse of the future before others. I believe CEL represents the future of learning, and those involved are privileged to experience that future, now.
by Youngmoo Kim P’26 | Director of the ExCITe Center and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Drexel University | Co-chair of the CEL Task Force, SCH Board of Trustees
Over the past 10 years, the Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) has become a cornerstone of the SCH educational experience. It is a program as substantial in its educational content as in its inspirational impact. In celebration of the CEL's 10th anniversary coming this May, we are publishing a commemorative booklet with the voices of those thought leaders who have had a role in shaping the CEL since its inception. We look forward to sharing these articles leading up to CEL’s milestone event as it continues to provide opportunity, devise creative solutions, effect positive change, and more for the future of education at SCH Academy.
Learn more: www.sch.org/cel