Creativity Seminar encourages students to think differently

Written on 02 October 2013.

ESPEME 4 students in Lille recently participated in a three-day creativity seminar, the purpose of which was to help them to see problems as opportunities for creative thinking, and to discover new ways to innovate in group settings and on tight deadlines.

The following article describes the first two days of the seminar and focuses on a group of students who worked with lecturer Jean-Christophe Cachot, an HR consultant and executive trainer in creativity and innovation. ESPEME 4 students in Nice participated in a similar project on September 30.

Huddled in a circle outside room E 403, the four ESPEME students looked tense and nervous. In less than three hours they were set to present their idea on how to make cities more responsible to a jury of professionals and they still had no idea what they were going to say. This was not good and they were not happy.

They turned to instructor Jean-Christophe Cachot for help. He cautioned that if they tried to organize their ideas too quickly, they would lose the creative spark and their attempt at true innovation would fail. “Right now, everything is in chaos, and that’s OK,” Cachot told the students. “If you try to put things in order right now, you’ve had it.”

Cachot encouraged the students to give in to creative chaos for another 15 minutes, and then he promised they could start focusing in on a concrete idea for the jury. “You have to find the one idea that truly astonishes,” he said. “That’s the only way that you are going to be really explosive before the jury.”

As difficult as it was to follow this advice, the students kept searching and in the end, they placed third out of 8 groups who participated in the 2013 Creativity Seminar at ESPEME, the bachelor’s programme at EDHEC Business School.

 The Lille seminar is organized by Professor Isabelle Sequeira, Director of the Centre for Culture and Society at the EDHEC Business School, as well as a group of professors and lecturers. Its purpose is to build on previous creativity and innovation training students have had during their ESPEME education, but also to capture some of the bright ideas that come with youth, travel and new adventures.

“The timing of the seminar is very important,” says Professor Sequeira. “We do it in the fourth year of the ESPEME programme because this is when the students are just coming back from internships or travel abroad and they have seen and experienced things that others might not know about.”

The seminar’s theme is a carefully guarded secret, and students don’t learn about it until the day the event starts. The theme of this year’s Lille seminar was “The Responsible City” and it was announced to the 192 ESPEME students via video by Franck Hanoh, the elected representative of Lille’s Centre neighbourhood and a lecturer at EDHEC.

In the video, Hanoh challenged the students to rethink the definition of the responsible city. He asked them to draw upon their experiences in internships and academic exchange programmes to come up with new ways in which cities could serve and unite citizens, whether through education, health services, sports activities or police measures.

Students spent much of the first day of the seminar working on creativity exercises. In Professor Sequeira’s class, students played word-association games, imitated inanimate objects such as lamps and zippers, and imagined new and fantastic uses for a paperclip. In Professor Cachot’s class, they watched a video about the effects of peer pressure on human behaviour, and wrote down the words that came to mind as they stared at doodles.

 “Our goal is to teach them to see things differently; to break out of the mold,” said lecturer Patricia Pilchon. “We have to teach them that even mistakes can lead to exciting discoveries.”

By the end of the second day, it was time to present those discoveries to the jury, members of which included Jean-Francois Boudailliez, an elected official with the city of Roubaix; Bertrand Sauvage, Roubaix’s director of economy and commerce, and Michelle Botha, the new Director of ESPEME.

There were ideas for employing drones to protect citizens, inviting graffiti artists to tag trams and buses, and using giant screens to unite diverse neighbourhoods in dance and song. Through it all, there was quite a bit of cheering and a lot of laughter.

For their part, jury members said an idea to use rental bikes to generate energy to illuminate the city was the best. They said they liked the idea because it was original but also do-able. Many cities already have fleets of rental bikes and these bikes are very popular for citizens and tourists alike. Attaching a small dynamo to the bikes to harness energy would not be cost-prohibitive, they said.

In second place was an idea to provide free parking to drivers who, after a night out on the town, test negative for alcohol. In third place was an idea to create links between citizens through various actions, including placing small wind turbines on buildings to generate energy, using a smart phone application to help protect citizens, and creating smoking corners to promote good health.

ESPEME 4 student Louise Taccoen, 24, said that the Lille creativity seminar was a beneficial experience. “For me, it was very positive because I learned another way to think about things and to analyse problems,” she said. “I truly believe that I will try to push myself to go beyond the norm the next time I am in a brainstorming session.”

For more information about the Creativity Seminar, please contact Isabelle Sequeira at

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