Are Skidmore business majors as creative as Skidmore art majors? That question so intrigued Sophie Cohen, who graduated last May with a dual major in Art History and Management and Business, that — working with MB faculty member Laura Paul as her advisor — she decided to make it the focus of her senior thesis.

Sophie, thanks for joining us. How did you become interested in this subject — and why do you think it’s an important one to explore? (We’ll invite Laura to jump in as well.)

COHEN: I was frequently told by my friends, teachers, and even potential employers, that as a double major in Art History and Management and Business, I had the best of both worlds: creative fulfillment from the arts, and logical thinking skills from business. However, I was always curious why people assumed business courses could not teach creativity. Even at a place like Skidmore, with a slogan of “Creative Thought Matters,” there is a general assumption that art students are more creative than business students. I wanted to determine the validity of that assumption.

What exactly did you set out to find out? And how did you structure the study to achieve those goals?

COHEN: I was determined to uncover the creative potential within our Management and Business department, to see if business students truly are “less” creative, and how Skidmore’s Management and Business department can foster and promote creativity in the classroom. In order to answer my questions, I created a survey to analyze the tolerance of ambiguity, self monitoring, learning styles, and risk taking abilities of Management and Business and Studio Art majors.

“Tolerance of ambiguity” refers to the ability to perceive ambiguity in information and behavior in a neutral or open way. Individuals who possess a high tolerance for ambiguity tend to pay more attention to information, interpret more cues, cope more effectively with change, stress, and conflict.

“Self-monitoring” refers to the ability to regulate one’s behavior to situational factors. High self-monitors show considerable adaptability in their behavior depending on their surrounding environment, and are expected to demonstrate greater flexibility in adapting to leadership in changing situations.

A “learning style” is the way an individual best absorbs and processes information. While learning style is not necessarily directly related to creativity, understanding one’s learning style helps to maximize efficiency in the classroom and minimize frustration related to learning.

“Risk-taking” is an individual’s ability to handle risk comfortably. People who are willing to take risk expose themselves to the possibilities of creative work. Creativity occurs when an individual goes beyond the known, the rules, and the given.

In addition to the survey, I asked declared Management and Business majors to take an “alternative uses” test. An alternative uses test is considered to be a pure measure of creativity. It simply asks people to list as many uses as they can think of for common objects. While some people think of two or three obvious uses, other can keep adding to the list until they are told to stop.

LAURA PAUL: I agree with Sophie that we have significant creative potential in M&B, and supervising her thesis research has inspired me to reexamine the assignments I give my students. As designed, did they allow students to tap into their creative potential? This semester I have challenged the students in my organizational behavior classes to be more creative in their group assignments and have been impressed with the initial results. In addition, students can design a learning activity for each of the modules in the course (three) and then create an original project designed to develop an understanding of their chosen topic in more detail. I’ve also encouraged them to be more interdisciplinary in their approach, and feel that their initial project ideas are very promising. Some students interviewed local business owners and employees, created a film, used video to illustrate de-motivating management practices and then created skits to demonstrate motivating employee-manager interactions. I look forward to seeing what other ideas they come up with this semester

COHEN: In the case of my thesis, what I learned and what surprised me are one and the same. Despite the common assumption that art students are more creative than business students, according to my survey and experiment results, the Management and Business students and Studio Art students at Skidmore College are equally creative.

The “tolerance of ambiguity” scale used to assess the extent to which individuals cope with incomplete, unstructured, and dynamic situation, showed only minute differences in the personalities of Studio Art and Business Management majors. Therefore, hypothesis one was not supported by the data. However, unexpectedly, the survey results showed large distinctions between male and female tolerance of ambiguous situations. For example, 50 percent of participants strongly agreed with the statement, “Often, the most interesting stimulating people are those who don’t mind being different and original.” Of those respondents, 11 were Studio Art majors and 11 were Management and Business majors. More interestingly, 17 were female, while only 8 were male.

The “self-monitoring” scale had minor differences between majors. However, just as witnessed in the Tolerance of Ambiguity scale, there were significant differences between genders. In response to the statement, “I am not particularly good at making people like me,” 83 percent of the survey participants disagreed and chose false. Of the 83 percent, 20 students were Management and Business majors while 24 were Studio Art majors. The more significant difference was in gender, with 27 female respondents versus 17 male respondents.

The “learning style inventory” applies to the Skidmore curriculum more directly than the other survey questions, due to its unique focus on how Skidmore students’ best learn information. Consistently the survey participants suggested they learned best by doing and participating in activities. The five statements that students most identified with were, “When I learn I like to be doing things,” “When I learn I like to see results from my work,” “I learn by doing,” “I learn best from a chance to practice and try out,” “When I learn I like to see results from my work,” and “I learn best when I can try things out for myself.” In response to the statement, “I learn by doing,” which 64 percent agreed is the way he/she learns best, 17 respondents were Studio Art majors and 16 respondents were Management and Business majors. However, just as seen in the other scales, 21 of the respondents were female while only 12 were male.

The “risk taking” scale used suggested that, as a whole, the control group were moderate-risk takers. Studio Art students are not higher ranking risk takers than Management and Business students. Over 90 percent  of the survey respondents replied false to the statement, “I’d rather not travel abroad,” and more that 94 percent said “true” to the statement, “Making my own decisions is very important to me.” Of the Studio Art survey participants, 1 is a low risk taker, 7 are cautious, 12 are moderate-risk takers, and 8 are high-risk takers. Of the Management and Business participants, 7 were cautious, 15 were moderate-risk takers, and 3 were high-risk takers.

The results of Guilford’s “alternative uses” test (1967), which was used to test the fluency and flexibility of students enrolled in Management and Business and Studio Art courses, supported hypothesis five. On average, when working individually, both Studio Art and Management and Business students provided 13.4 possible uses for a brick. However, as previously speculated, the participants provided an average of 24 possible uses for a brick when working in group.

You noted that this is an area that’s ripe for further study. What areas in particular do you think future Skidmore students (or others) might productively investigate?

COHEN: While my research was a good start, we still do not know how creativity is being integrated to Skidmore classrooms and how we can further foster creativity throughout the Skidmore environment. Creativity in the classroom has been advocated as a critical success factor for students entering an increasingly diverse, rapidly changing, and competitive workplace, making it a worth-while and critical field of study.

What are you currently doing? And what are your plans?

COHEN: I am currently working in advertising sales at Time magazine in New York City. While I have no idea what is in store for the future, I hope to continue to work in an environment that requires creativity in everyday business practices!