Skills for Creativity and Innovation

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These competencies are explicitly fostered and described in Competence View.
These competencies are fostered in this course but are not explicitly described in Competence View. Please contact the responsible person for further information. Competencies in grey are fostered in this course but are generally not the focus of Competence View, which focusses on cross-disciplinary competencies.

This lecture aims to improve the knowledge and competency of students in terms of their innovation capability. An overview on prerequisites of and different skills required for creativity and innovation in individual & team settings is provided. The focus of this series of lectures is clearly on building competencies – and not just on acquiring knowledge.

In view of the innovations in organizational settings in the field of engineering and of recent research, it becomes more and more evident that we humans are the most important success factor for developing new ideas in all areas of academia and business. A cornerstone of successful human innovation are social competencies on an individual and team level. Looking at the courses at the ETH, this was (and still is) an “underoffered” area. This series of lectures is trying to close this gap.

Note: This series of lectures was initially developed with an innovedum grant.

Students design a creative skills training session for their peers

One of the basic ideas in these lectures is that students improve their creative ability and their ability to reflect upon creative processes. Below, we provide an example from the lectures with an aspect of our performance assessment method.

Since assessments should mirror the type of knowledge the student should acquire, we have developed a new form of assessment for the students. They have to develop a training session for creative skills and implement it for their fellow students. Examples are:

– Being open

– Psychological safety (dealing with mistakes and working together)

– Self-awareness as a common ground for being more creative

A, B and C are the building blocks for a successful collegiate training session. They show how the session is held on a step-by-step basis

A – Careful preparation and the forming of teams among the students

  1. The teams are formed on a voluntary basis. This helps the students to feel like they can perform to their best abilities. Nevertheless, the teams should also not be built only on the basis of “I know this guy already”. As a result, the first two days are spent on intensive exercises in which everyone gets to know one another.
  2.  On the second day, we give the students the opportunity to think about their topic and talk to others with similar ideas and interests. The teams are then formed according to the topic and on the basis of people getting along with one another.
    NEED TO KNOW FOR LECTURERS: We tried out a large number of different methods to change the original behavior of the students in the first year(s) of this course – as the students only formed teams (and carried out the performance assessment) with people they knew already. One method that works is to state very clearly the expectation that all exercises are done in “new teams”. We do not monitor this closely, but we do make it clear that not doing so would entail a violation of our trust and people will take less away from this class.
  3. Begin the work in teams for the performance assessment by clearly stating the purpose and with a discussion on the expectations.
    The teams do not only have to talk about the detailed topic, they can also discuss their expectations of each other. The establishment of a common goal (what kind of grade do we want to achieve, how much time are we willing to put into the preparation, etc.) is the targeted output of 30 minutes of group work.
    NEED TO KNOW FOR LECTURERS: We as lecturers are not interested in the details of this discourse. We just provide the space for it to take place. This ensures that students do not feel like they need to have a “showcase” purpose and goal. This is all about them.

B – Faculty provide a clear structure for developing a solution

  1. Two weeks after the forming of teams, the students meet again and are given a clear structure for developing a competency training session (see blocks 1–6 in the “METHOD section”).
  2. At least one of the lecturers is available to answer questions and coach the teams. The teams work completely autonomously and are asked to bring in any help that they need.
  3. There are only two points during the day at which the teams have to present their status quo. We will have a short pitch of their status quo. We will do this for each team individually. At the end of the day, we will have a short questions and answer session to check if they are (still) on the right track.
    NEED TO KNOW FOR LECTURERS: We learned that it is better to have the sessions with the team individually, rather than as an exchange between the teams. Most of the students are so involved in their topic that they find it difficult to be able to give feedback on another topic and the “surprise effect” of the training session days is not as large as it should be (if they already know what is going to happen, this takes away some of the fun for the participating students. More importantly however, the trainings do not have the same real-life quality).


Block 1 – Understand:

  • What is “your topic” about?
  • What kind of behavior contributes to your chosen competency and what are the skills?

Block 2 – Decide on the goals:
Which of these behavioral elements do you want to include in our training session? What is the overall goal of your training session?

Block 3 – Analyze your participants and adapt your goals:
What do you know about the average skill level (behavior mastery level) of your participants? Which skill level do you want to reach?

Block 4 – Ideas on how to do it:
Search for ideas on “how to train the selected skill?”

Block 5 – Ideas on how to do it:
Build a training session agenda and dramaturgy – matching the 45 min time frame!

Block 6 – Plan the details:

  • Clarify the role of each person in the team – and each person should have a role!
  • Create a detailed schedule and list of materials required!

C – Students hold the training session and receive transparent feedback

Normally, we have two days reserved for the workshops that are held by the student teams (each 40’). On these workshop days, the students will take part in a maximum of four workshops. The rest of the time is used for guest speakers to give talks on related topics (e.g. design thinking, experience of companies with creative teams, etc.) and for short theoretical inputs.

At the beginning of the day, a short feedback training session is held. This provides all students with the opportunity to give transparent and helpful feedback to their fellow students.


Outline of the “competence training session” sequence:

  1. Roles are allocated by the team giving the training to their peers: participants or feedback providers (5’)
  2. Training is held (40’)
  3. Feedback is provided to the training team with the focal points (20’):
    – how the participants felt about the training session
    – the feedback providers discuss the following topics: flow of the training session (agenda), facilitation quality (as a team, towards the training participants), team dynamics, clarity of goal and content, and did they actually train the chosen competence (?!).
    – the lecturers: we focus on all feedback focal points

Students report back on what they have learned from the experience

We do not grade the training in itself, because we want people to leave their comfort zone and try to learn as much as possible. Grades are assigned based on the report that has to be handed in at the end of the semester (with a defined structure).

Here, we grade how diligently they worked (completeness of the report);

  1. Did they really dig deep into the competence they wanted to train (thoroughness of preparation);
  2. Creativity and flexibility in method preparation and execution.
  3. The last grading focus is probably the most important:
  • Did they learn from the feedback?
  • Did they reflect on the feedback?
  • Can they draw conclusions from it (learning ability/conclusions from feedback)?


We experienced that the students holding a training session investigate and learn more about the chosen competence than they would do in a normal assessment. They are more committed toward and more interested in doing more background reading outside of the classroom. They learn to understand the concept of competence (versus knowledge and expertise) better and in a more profound way.
For us, the obvious benefit is that we test the students on the topics we want to teach.

Lessons learned
We had to learn to coach the students on how to prepare a training session (especially as regards the scope of the training).

Course Description

Skills for creativity & innovation
This lecture aims to improve the knowledge and competency of students in terms of their innovation capability. An overview on prerequisites of and different skills required for creativity and innovation in individual & team settings is provided. The focus of this series of lectures is clearly on building competencies – and not just on acquiring knowledge.
- Basic knowledge on creativity and skills
- Knowledge of the individual prerequisites for creativity
- Development of individual skills for creativity
- Knowledge of teams
- Development of team-oriented skills for creativity
- Knowledge and expertise on the transfer to idea-generation teams

G (lecture & execices)
Teaching Power:
Group work & oral exam