Huebner, C. (INPRESS) Why creativity matters: Why the development of creative thinking is important to students entering today’s knowledge-based economy

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman recently told listeners at the Aspen Ideas Festival that the days of smooth transitions into the world of work are gone. “When we got out of college, we had to find a job. When our kids get out of college, they will have to invent a job.” What this means is that students who will be enrolling in universities across the nation are going to have to start relying on something they are not used to- tapping into their individual creativity and creating niches for themselves in an ever-changing environment. Our current k-12 system and, in many cases, our higher education institutions are set up on a pre- 19th century system that is based on a hierarchy of subjects thought to prepare students for work (Robinson, 2006).  This hierarchy put languages and math at the top and the arts at the bottom. This was an idea that met the needs of industrialism at that time.  In his 2006 Ted Talk, Ken Robinson explained the effects of this system (and standardized testing) on education. First, it has created an environment where people have lost the ability to be wrong. This leads to hesitancy in taking chances. Second, it has created the mindset that being creative is only something a select few (those in the arts) have, and that individuals either have it or they do not.

In contrast to viewing creativity as a characteristic of a select few, this article will argue that advisors can and must help all students further develop the ability to think creatively (as a component of human capital) in reference to their academic and extracurricular experiences in college. The notion has been developed in response to Shaffer and Zalewski’s (2011) proposal that the development of human capital in students represents the philosophical shift that must occur in academic advising to account for the rapidly changing, knowledge-driven, postindustrial economy. This notion will be elaborated on in terms of an informal curriculum, or experiences that happen outside of a normal class setting and a student’s formal curriculum. This article will also echo Feller and O’Bruba’s (2009) stance on the need for integrating academic advising and career advising. In order to account for this philosophical shift, the idea of academic advising must be reworked.

If the goal is for advisors to help students create informal curriculum opportunities and form connections between what they are learning in class and out of class and their career goals, students will have to develop the ability to think more creatively. The ability to engage in divergent thinking and to form such interconnections should strengthen students’ personal responsibility for their experiences as well. As students become more confident of their ability to influence their overall college experience and future experiences, they are likely to reciprocally strengthen their creativity, creating a positive cycle of student development. This development of creativity within students will initially rely on the advisor’s willingness to integrate both academic and career advising into their advising model.

The ability to think more creatively regarding academic planning will help students prepare for and adapt to rapidly changing work environments. Shaffer and Zalewiski (2011b) also argue that students will be entering a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment. This is an environment where “fewer organizations find profitability in hiring, training, and retaining workers” (p.1). Advisors must account for these changes, because the ability to develop broad knowledge and skills will be at a premium when students graduate.

This article will discuss Shaffer and Zalewski’s definition of human capital and articulate a framework to integrate academic and career advising. Through an examination of creativity literature, the importance of creativity in developing human capital will be discussed.

Advising, a human capital approach

In a series of articles, Shaffer and Zalewski (2009, 2011a, 2011b) make the argument that the function of academic advising must be revised to better serve students entering the postindustrial economy. The authors suggest the development of a human capital as an approach to both academic and career advising.

Human capital is any characteristic or skill that contributes positively to a worker’s productivity. In Shaffer’s seminal work, the author recommends that advisors help students develop human capital through five avenues: formal education, adult education, on-the-job training, health and geographic mobility (Shaffer, 1997), Shaffer added a second layer in response to a national study that was conducted to examine the impact of globalization on the U.S. workforce. The conclusion of the study was that American corporations wanted new hires to have a more complete understanding of the global economy and workplace (Bikson & Law, 1994). Shaffer thus proposed the need for advisors to encourage students to explore ways to grow their multicultural competence (Shaffer, 2008).

Recently, Shaffer and Zalewski’s argument has shifted to account for what they call the ‘’new contract.” Although the development of human capital as an advising outcome is the goal, the argument here is that it must occur with the integration of academic advising and career advising. In order to accomplish this goal, advising cannot reflect the traditional one-way transmission of information from advisor to student. Rather, advising must become a more collaborative process in which student and advisor work together creatively to develop student capital.

Academic and career advising

To accommodate the changing needs of students entering institutions of higher education, the notion of viewing academic and career advising as separate entities needs to be reworked. In the Handbook of Career Advising (2011), Feller and O’Bruba argue that greater importance needs to be placed on “developing career management competencies and they call for closing the ‘innovation gap’ within an ‘innovation nation’ by improving the effectiveness of academic advisors (p.20).” In order to do so, advisors need to demonstrate a new awareness for how student’s workplaces are changing, a willingness to challenge certain career and academic assumptions, and develop the ability to navigate an increasingly global workplace (Feller & O’Bruba, 2011).

As developed by the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), academic advising is based on a “series of intentional interactions with a curriculum, a pedagogy, and a set of student learning outcomes” (NACADA, 2006). Through the acquisition of campus information (both policy and school initiatives) and the understanding of student development theories, effective academic advisors should be able to foster the supportive environment that allows students to explore career goals along with academic goals. By making the argument that academic advisors must help develop creativity as a skill set or human capital collateral, then advisors must look beyond the traditional approaches. In fact, Gordon (2006) stated, “Perhaps the day the term career advising will disappear is when it becomes so ingrained in academic advising process that its separate designation is no longer necessary” (p.12). Advisors who can help students see connections between educational decisions and potential careers will become a major asset to students entering institutions of higher education (Gordon, 2006).

Shaffer and Zalewski (2011) argue that in order to meet the needs of the 21st century employer, students must be prepared to showcase certain attributes.

“Emerging trends in career trajectories under the new contract include, among others, the commonly discussed protean, boundaryless, and portfolio careers. Protean refers to the transformed personal qualities of the worker; boundaryless describes the transferable skills of the worker; and portfolio relates to the enhanced requirements for building and documenting a worker’s human capital (p.77).

In the Handbook of Career Advising (2009), the authors provide multiple frameworks for the co-existence of academic and career advising. Hughley and Hughley (2009) suggest that: “Through the process of integrating career and academic advising, the opportunity is provided to contribute to meeting students’ needs, enhancing students’ learning, and preparing students for the future” (p.1).

For academic advisors seeking to integrate career advising and academic advising, it is important to understand the framework within which career advisors work. In Career Advising: An academic advisors guide (2006), Gordon outlined three phases that career advisors work through with students. In phase one (Inquire), the advisor should establish a rapport with students to foster a beneficial working relationship. The advisor should also determine the student’s knowledge base, skills, and attitudes and understand their career goals.

The second phase (Inform) includes helping the student “understand the connections among self-awareness, educational choices, occupational information, and academic and career planning” (Gordon, 2006).  Advisors should be able to assist students to find ways to explore their current, major initiatives that help them understand potential career choices, and ways to plan ahead for further exploration. As the students continues to explore, it is important to create achievable sub- goals as a way to help them conceptualize appropriate steps toward their ultimate academic/experiential goals. Examples of sub-goals might involve volunteer experiences on a student crisis hot-line or residential treatment program in an effort to develop a student’s’ greater awareness of their aptitudes and interest in the field of psychological counseling students’ with emotional problems.  Facilitating access to such experiences may be the most important step in advisors’ abilities to deepen their impact on students through the integration of career and academic advising activities.

This capacity to help students brainstorm, access, and undertake such experiences outside the formal curriculum has traditionally been the missing link between what academic advisors do and what career advisors do.

The third phase (Integrate), involves the development of a monitoring system to review students’ progress toward meeting their sub-goals and ultimate career goals. The final component of this phase is to continually review student’s plans and accomplishments. The review process is important because it is sometimes hard for students to understand that their progress toward their sub-goals involves learning knowledge, skills, and that they should documenting (Gordon, 2006).

Creative self-efficacy

Creativity, or the ability to develop novel solutions to problems, is something that appears to be either lost or under-valued by students (Amabile, 1983; Shalley, 1995). The notion that students can be creative in terms of influencing   their formal and informal college experiences is either not conceivable or thought of as a risk. Wanting “an easy semester” is also a goal of many   students.  Perhaps it is this hesitancy to take perceived risks or lack of high expectations that encourages students to view their college experience with only a singular objective in mind (i.e., getting a degree).

The question remains, why target creativity as a skill that needs to be developed? Creativity can become the mechanism to broaden students’ thought process and the architecture that binds together both their informal and formal curricular experiences.

The goal is to engage students in creative thinking in hopes of developing aspirations and methods to help students extend beyond just getting a diploma. Students who limit themselves in this way may find themselves unable to transition into their desired careers. Developing creativity is important, because it strengthens students’ abilities to form complex associations (Perry-Smith, 2006), which increases their capacity to respond in multiple, effective ways to a single situation (Guilford, 1950; Mumford & Gustafson, 1988; Perry-Smith, 2006). This may be perceived as a very non-typical approach to many students, but if advisors elicit student “buy in” to the approach, students will increase their chances of developing meaningful college experiences that prepare them for the future (Dane, Pratt, Baer & Oldham, 2011).

Aside from engaging in the creative thought process, students must be confident in their ability to create and learn from new experiences. Self-efficacy predicts creativity (Tierney & Farmer, 2002). If advisors can help students become more confident with their decisions, especially if they are perceived as non-typical experiences, there is greater potential to broaden their perspectives and create stronger experiential connections. This is important if there is an expectation to think outside the box and can be accomplished through the supportive behavior advisors already engage in (Beghetto, 2006).

What follows is a three-step process that advisors can follow to help students creatively develop and enrich their curriculum to achieve broader goals.

As noted above, it is critical to facilitate a collaborative working relationship between the student and the advisor. Such a collaborative approach implies an equally shared set of responsibilities.  A truly collaborative relationship is not likely to characterize the advising relationship initially, but advisors can facilitate gradually sharing more responsibility with the student.

Create an open mindset

In order to facilitate an open mindset, advisors must buy in to the approach as well. Thus, advisors must have a clear understanding of the importance of developing human capital and the meaning of the protean, boundary-less and portfolio careers. Once this realization occurs, advisors can begin to work with students to conceptualize how to positively affect those trajectories given the ability to explore informal curriculum opportunities while they are enrolled. Without this expectation, the possibility of creating an open mindset with students and developing new ways of thinking would likely be minimal.

Initially, advisors must become motivated to self-educate. Advisor must become familiar with the industries that students will be entering. Becoming educated on industry trends, organizational structure, and expectations will help contribute to a more encompassing game plan for the student.  An expectation cannot be placed on the importance of establishing connections during school, without a clear understanding of where those career aspirations might lead. Advisors can look towards major players in each industry, blogs, journals, and continual conversations with faculty to gain these insights. Again, not enough emphasis can be placed on the ability of advisors to actively seek relevant information for their students.

Self-education should also include an understanding of campus outlets that would be a benefit for students. Similarly, in the context of careers, in order to have more in depth conversations about possible ‘informal’ opportunities, advisors must provide more information than simply identifying an outlet.

If advisors can develop sufficient expertise, coupled with the ability to have rich, in depth conversations with students about their experiences, then student ‘buy in’ for a comprehensive advising experience would more likely occur. Remember, exploring these ‘informal’ opportunities may sound risky to students. The more prepared advisors are to help students establish these connections, the more likely students may develop a more open mindset to explore additional experiences.

The outlets that the student and advisor can utilize to help facilitate student ‘buy in’, could include classroom socialization (i.e. group projects, ability to discuss) (Shaffer, 2011a), skills learned through general education requirements, components of the liberal arts curriculum, experiential learning opportunities, job skills training, internships, and para-professional positions on campus.

All of these outlets can provide great tools that students sometimes do not realize can help them build important knowledge, skills, and attitudes. This is why the push for advisors to self-educate is so important. If an advisor understands what goes on within a given course on campus, or what the responsibilities are in an on-campus internship, they can help the student develop a greater potential to fully understand the nature of and the opportunities related to   the experience. Not only does this help with the ‘buy in’, but students should be better prepared to engage in thoughtful self-reflection and ongoing dialogue with the advisor and others to evaluate the usefulness of the various experiences.

With the integration of both career and academic advising, the student should have the ability to look towards the advisor as a reliable source of information along with the confidence to branch out and find experiences on their own. If advisors are asking students to think in broader terms and then reflect on the interconnectedness of each experience, then the advisor must be prepared to broaden their knowledge and skill set, as well.

Developing Emotional Labor

Emotional labor refers to the ability to effectively regulate one’s emotions Emotional self-regulation is viewed as a skill that can be developed. This concept originated with Hochschild (1983) who examined how individuals managed the display of their emotions in a public setting (Wharton, 2009). This seminal work focused on lower-end service workers, such as customer service workers.  However, recent research has suggested these skills are important for professionals as well, especially in a dynamic economy (Taylor, 2005; Zalewski & Shaffer, 2011). The greater diversity, interconnectedness, and transparency of the 21st century workplace will make emotional labor an increasingly important component of human capital, which is key to external perceptions of proficiency and the experience of personal success in labor markets and professional careers (p. 48).

Work environments are changing rapidly. The way individuals communicate; along with changes in communication platforms increase this need for students to communicate skillfully and appropriately. To prepare our students for changes within the context of a volatile economy, it is important for advisors to understand them. Such major changes include:  (1) new organizational/organizing strategies are developing in many of today’s industries (DYG, 2001).  The ability to work collaboratively in groups has become a “must have” skill in many of the US’ emerging industries (DYG, 2001, Johnson, 2011, Haugen, 2011). (2), Both local and global influences have created a much more diverse workplace (Warton, 2009). Students must have developed multicultural competencies to navigate this new terrain. (3) As social innovation continues, the use of social platforms, increases in communication between business and consumer, and an expectation of transparency have surfaced (Johnson, 2011). Students must be ready to interact with many different individuals in many different capacities while representing their employers. (4) Finally, new digital territories have changed the way people are interacting. Online communication tools have expanded the ability to expand one’s social presence, thus increasing the importance of emotional labor in the workplace.

In view of these changing environments, advisors must be prepared to utilize both informal and formal curriculum opportunities to influence students’ development of emotional labor.

Advisors should be able to talk about the importance of managing feelings (in internships, jobs, courses, organizations). Advisors also must be willing to help students learn the importance of documenting, demonstrating, and communicating these skills to potential employers.

A creative methodology: The game plan

In High-Impact Educational Practices, George Kuh (2008), wrote that in order to give students the skills they need to succeed in a competitive and global economy, advisors must assist students with developing “purposeful pathways or a series of “high impact practices’ that are conceived to facilitate the desired growth in students. Using National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data, Kuh developed a list of “best practices” for use with students.  The list encompasses many aspects of university life, thus there are many practices for advisors to draw upon when helping a student create an individualized game plan. By relying on these research-based practices, advisors should be helping create a game plan that will provide the capability of successfully engaging a student, in a creative capacity, both experientially and academically.

Both initially and throughout the advisement of a student, both advisor and student, as part of this process should be asking themselves the following questions: Is the experience one that demands students devotes considerable time and effort towards purposeful tasks? Is the student becoming engaged in activities that demand interaction with faculty and peers? Will the experience increase interactions with diverse groups? Is the student experiencing learning in different settings (Kuh, 2008)?

These questions can also be used as a guideline for advisors when seeking opportunities for students to become engaged. When developing both course options and informal curriculum opportunities the conversations of the importance of experience and then the benefit is a major component. Advisors who look into each opportunity or course will be better suited to further reflection and discussion.

This advising plan can work within any record keeping mechanism that an advising office currently uses. If an office subscribes to this method than it should be easy to work out a semester-by-semester timetable- one that can be revisited during each semester. Students’ ability to see and then reflect on the connections that are being made in reference to their goals should increase both the students’ confidence and the development of a more open mindset. There is also the hope that the student will start to understand the importance of documenting not only institutional transcripts and co-curricular transcripts, but also the need to account for how they connect. Students who can make these connections may be better prepared to articulate why they are prepared for certain job positions (Shaffer & Zalewski, 2011a).

An option for further exploration might be the use of portfolios or e-portfolios. Some institutions have started using electronic portfolios as a means to track student progress (Wilson & Gerson, 2011). In Advisee e-Folio, Wilson and Gerson, propose the idea of using an e-Folio system to assess student success and facilitate student development. The goal is to use the system along with building a collaborative team around the student and use the ability to collect contributions from each member to build a supportive environment. The offer the example of the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Values Rubric: Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education. The utility in a written account via e-Folios is two-fold. One, there is potential to develop a deeper insight into the student. Advisors have more data to examine and the student-advisor conversations can be much more in depth. Advisors can also track career aspirations as they change to highlight student growth or opportunity to seek involvement. Two, there is a tangible document that can directly be converted to a student’s resume. Whether it is through a written record or through a portfolio system, if advisors follow this method and create this account of a student’s success, such actions encourage persistence and provide a visual indication that the student is learning, new knowledge, skills, and attitudes relevant to their desired goals.



According to an Association of American Colleges and Universities-LEAP study, 63% of today’s students will leave college without the skills needed to succeed in a global economy (Kuh, 2008). If advisors are preparing students for this new economy, then they must help facilitate the growth of skills/knowledge that transcend specific degree programs and job training experiences. It is hoped that this paper will facilitate discussion of ways for advisors to help students to think more creatively about opportunities to better prepare them for the lifelong learning needed to ensure future success.

Works Cited

Ambile, T. M. (1983). The social psychology of creativity: A componential conceptualization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45: 357 – 377.

Beghetto, R. A. (2006). Creative self-efficacy: Correlates in middle and secondary students. Creativity Research Journal, 18, 447 – 457.

Bikson, T.K. & Law, S. A. (1994). Global preparedness and human resources: College and corporate perspectives. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Dane, E., Pratt, M. G., Baer, M., Oldham, G. R. (2011) Rational versus intuitive problem solving: How thinking “off the beaten path” can stimulate creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, 5, 3 – 12.

Dunn, K. (2012). Why you fired the new guy. Retrieved from:

DYG, INC. (2001) The new workplace: Attitudes and expectations of a new generation at work.

Gordon, V. N. (2006) Career advising: An academic advisor’s guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Boss.

Haugen, D. (2012). Freelancers, alone no more: Coworking is going big business. Retrieved from:

Hughey, K. F., Nelson, D. B., Damminger, J.K. , McCalla-Wriggins, B. & associates. (2009) The Handbook of Career Advising. San Fransisco: Jossey-Boss.

Johnson, S. (2011). The Innovator’s Cookbook: Essentials for Inventing What is Next.  New York: Penguin Group.

National Academic Advising Association. (2006). NACADA concept of academic advising. Retrieved January 17, 2012, from

Perry-Smith, J. E., (2006). Social yet creative: The role of social relations in facilitating individual creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 49. 85 – 101.

Shaffer, L. S. (1997). A human capital approach to academic advising. NACADA Journal, 17, 5 – 12.

Shaffer, L. S. (1998). Maximizing human capital by developing multicultural competence. NACADA Journal, 18, 21 – 27.

Shaffer, L. S. & Zalewski, J.M. (2011a). A human capital approach to academic advising. NACADA Journal, 31, 75 – 87.

Shaffer, L. S., & Zalewski, J. M. (2011b). Career advising in a VUCA environment, NACADA Journal, 31, 64 – 74.

Shalley, C. E. (1995). Effects of coaction, expected evaluation, and goal setting on creativity and productivity. Academy of Management Journal, 38: 4883 – 503.

Taylor, S. J. (2005). Lock up emotion: Moving beyond dissonance for understanding emotion labor discomfort. Communication Monographs, 72, 261 – 283.

Wharton, A. S., (2009). The sociology of emotional labor. The Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 147 – 165.

Wilson, C.A. & Gerson, T. (2011). Advisee e-Folio: Measurable effects on persistence, retention, and graduation rates. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources.

Zaleswski, J. M., & Shaffer, L. S. (2011). Advising students to value and develop emotional labor skills for the workplace. NACADA Journal, 31, 44 – 54.


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