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Dawn Graham, Career Director for the MBA for Executives Program at Wharton, runs the call-in show "Career Talk" on Wharton Business Radio.

Credit: Katie Zhao

One of Wharton’s most sought-after classes is not in finance, but in a topic thought of by many as unteachable: creativity.

Marketing professor Rom Schrift introduced Marketing 292, a class simply called "Creativity," to Wharton when he arrived at the school in 2011. Schrift was introduced to the subject when he took an MBA class in Israel that was taught by Jacob Goldberg, one of the professors that developed the methods of creativity study.

Schrift emphasized that the class curriculum challenges common conceptions about what it means to be inventive and innovative. In the first half of the semester of Marketing 292, Schrift teaches students the “templates” that underlie and explain creative ideas.

“The approach [to creativity] challenges the intuitions that most people have about creativity,” he said. “The empirical research argues that, in order to come up with empirical ideas, we need to think inside of the box. So it’s a very structured approach to creativity. It’s an approach that harnesses constraints, saying constraints do not hamper creativity, but are extremely helpful to coming up with creative ideas.”

After learning the methodology, the second half of the semester focuses on learning how to work with the templates to generate ideas in real-life contexts. Schrift invites representatives from companies such as Hilton, Dr. Scholls and U.S. Playing Card Company to present their companies’ challenges to the students, who are then responsible for applying the templates and coming up with ideas of how to overcome the challenges.

2014 College graduate Gabriela Coya, a former copy editor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, took the class as a junior at Penn. Coya said that it was learning about the little-known structured aspect of creativity that attracted her to enroll and what she ended up finding most interesting.

“One of the biggest takeaways is that you can unlock creativity through various means and it doesn't have to be this fuzzy, unclear process,” Coya said. “With brainstorming, we commonly think that it is a great way to come up with ideas. And while it usually gets you to where you want, there are more efficient approaches to reach the same ideas without having to have no guidance.”

While Schrift initially taught the class only to undergraduates, he added two 70-student MBA sections in 2013.

Like Coya, 2014 Wharton MBA graduate Jeremy Lemer said he was attracted to the unconventional elements of the class.

“There are lots of classes [at Wharton], but most of them are very technical, and they are closely connected with the standard business topics,” Lemer said. "There’s not as much that tries to bring different approaches and different ways of doing things to business problems.”

While Lemer and Coya, who both work in consulting, said although they do not explicitly apply the principles they learned in the class in their professional lives, the skills are still valuable.

“Even if I hadn’t applied the principles [from the class], I have enjoyed telling lots of people about them since school,” Lemer said. “And if I do get presented with a new idea, I would like to think that I would apply the concepts.”

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