In most schools and universities, you won’t get appreciated for the doodles and sketches you made on the classroom wall in a sudden outburst of creativity. You’d probably be scolded for inappropriate behavior to say the least. In BSL, you are actually encouraged to do exactly that. Each classroom offers designated areas for wall writing and a choice of colorful chalk. Students can access such areas any time of the day during school’s opening hours with no supervision or proof reading. Now, you may think this is a risky or naive thing to do for a serious business school. We think there’s more to it.
We came up with the BSL interior redesign project (July-August 2014) as we looked for solutions to better reflect who we are and what we care about as a business school. The project took a few weeks of brainstorming and planning, many Skype meetings with Elena and Alfredo – our amazing art partners from Housatonic Design Network, and three days of painting by the “Great Five” (Alfredo’s team). The Italian feel for artwork is certainly what made this ride an enjoyable one more than anything else :).
For us, this project was more than the usual refurbishment we do every summer. This time, we were on a search for something different – simple yet effective solutions that would create a more engaging, stimulating and joyful learning environment. Have a look at what happened:
Behind the scenes or why did we do that
Every new element you spotted in the video is the result of careful consideration. We went for changes that are subtle but make a big difference. Here’s an overview of the key steps we took to transform the interior.
Change 1: we added a layer of special “chalkboard” paint on the walls to turn the surface into a functioning chalkboard.
Engaging. As a result of this transformation, each classroom at BSL offers a dedicated space for writing, doodling and sketching on the wall in order to help our students connect to their creativity and freedom of self-expression. For us, inviting students to voice their thoughts, insights or questions openly and creatively is a way to engage them more profoundly in the learning experience and, at the same time, to empower them to take responsibility for their own learning and for that of their classmates. At BSL, we are very open about the fact that you learn as much from your classmates as from your professors and real learning emerges when both sides are sincerely and deeply involved in the process. For example, if you want to inspire other students’ thoughts on a particular topic, you can write a question or share a thought on the wall in your classroom and invite other students to share their thinking too. Thus the classroom becomes an open space – a collaboratory – where everyone is invited to participate and co-create a desired learning environment.
Change 2: we repainted a selected wall of each classroom in a different color (bright and bold of course!).
Stimulating. Each floor of the building offers its own vibrant color – classy red, lemongrass, warm orange and turquoise blue – which allows for a different ambience when students move from one classroom to another. We went for bold and daring colors in order to provoke our students to think out of the box, to look at alternatives and to question what is perceived as the status quo. As educators, we believe it is critical to encourage students to challenge existing paradigms and go beyond conventional wisdom – so we used bright colors to reiterate our message visually. For us, the words of Sir Ken Robinson who says that “schools kill creativity” ring true when it comes to the overall landscape of school systems and educational institutions today. At BSL, we assume responsibility to help fix that problem and we make a genuine effort to help our students unleash their creativity.
Change 3: we printed inspirational messages on the walls.
Sense of purpose. As much as we strive to foster innovative thinking in our students, we know that applying creativity to one’s work would not be a complete experience without a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment. To help our students reconnect with their own internal sense of meaning and to encourage them to reflect on more profound questions (such that go beyond homework or exam preparation), we embedded inspirational messages on the walls. You can see such reminders on the staircase walls as well as inside the classrooms: “be the change”, “explore”, “make a difference”, “always dream”, “be courageous” etc.
Change 5: we painted a “blue ocean” with fishes, dolphins, seahorses and more deep-sea species in our meeting room.
Philosophy. We turned our “Blue Ocean” meeting room into a real “blue ocean”. The purposefully chosen name, inspired by the Blue Ocean Strategy concept, is a powerful metaphor illustrating our approach to existing, functioning, working and living with others. At BSL, we perceive a world which offers endless possibilities to evolve; one where individuals, communities and businesses thrive by collaborating with each other and generating new solutions to common problems as opposed to outperforming others and competing for scarce resources. W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, INSEAD professors who developed the Blue Ocean concept, argue that organizations can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating “blue oceans” of uncontested market space (unlocking new demand and creating value through innovation). The metaphor of the “blue oceans” is used to describe the deep not-yet-explored potential of the market space in contrast of the “red oceans” where fierce competition and cutthroat rivalry (aggressive sharks eating you alive) turn the ocean bloody.
As we now walk in BSL’s Blue Ocean room to have our weekly team meetings or host conversations with external partners, the visuals help us remain mindful of our genuine intention to seek new creative solutions through collaboration.
Providing an exceptional learning platform to individuals and organizations is what drives us in our everyday work. The playground has been set now. The real magic, however, happens when all of you – students, professors, researchers, partners and community members – join in. This is when the sparkle appears and with it – the promise of meaningful conversations, new creative solutions and shared value.
>> See more pictures of the renovation project.
Denitsa Marinova, BSL Marketing Coordinator