ESP for Developing Creativity

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

I have been thinking recently how ESP may be a good way to develop creativity. As I wrote in Marta Baffy’s profile, ESP project leaders seem to have expertise in multiple areas. Having expertise in multiple areas and being involved in problem-solving activities may lead to innovative solutions. In this post, I reflect on some of my own experiences.

A few days before writing this post, I received from a colleague a link to a TED Talk by mathematician and data scientist Cathy O’Neil titled “The Era of Blind Faith in Big Data Must End.” The talk was about algorithms. After watching it, I responded to my colleague:

It resonates of leadership and decision-making processes. The argument is to make such decision-making processes transparent. We can therefore see how such decision-making processes are being created as well as what the processes are creating (i.e., the vision).

In my response, I was drawing from the discourses of international relations and leadership in framing and extending the meaning of “algorithms” to include the various factors that influenced the creation of an algorithm. In my mind, decision-making processes reflect policy-making processes from the field of international relations in which I have a master’s degree. The term “vision” reflects leadership and my related doctoral research (Ph.D., linguistics) and curriculum development at my university.

Our educational backgrounds and areas of expertise not only influence how we communicate, but they also affect how we approach curriculum development (see Kirsten Schaetzel’s profile). As an example from my own experience, I teach business case studies in business English classes. In some classes, I replicate the experience that I had as a graduate student in which professors “cold call” in class and grade student responses. (The students do not know which of them will be called upon to answer the professor’s questions aloud in class (see Vince Ricci’s profile). On the other hand, I usually have the students work in groups and come up with the solutions to the case in class. This activity replicates what students in a master’s in business administration program would usually do outside of class (for the purpose of writing and submitting a case-study solution paper) in advance of a cold calling session.

I initially studied international relations and business administration in graduate school because of my involvement in ESP training at Sony. I had been training Sony managers and other employees for overseas assignments, and I believed at the time that I needed to obtain more training and experience in international business. However, in the field of ESP, I have also found that we do much of our learning on the job. In my ESP work now, I provide training to medical professionals, government officials, and company employees in various industries (e.g., steel, chemical, and advertising). In helping my students use English as a communication tool for their immediate needs, I learn more about the content of their fields.

For example, I was working with a medical doctor to prepare his PowerPoint presentation for an international conference. As an ESP practitioner, I was involved in helping him to edit his work. In addition, I acted as a speech/debate coach in attacking his ideas (e.g., see “ESP and the Power of Persuasion”) and improving his presentation delivery. One of my challenges was to learn quickly the discourse of his field so that I could better understand the content of his presentation and advise him how to communicate more effectively. In this connection, I needed him to explain to me certain technical terms.

By working with different learners in different industries, we learn different content. As a result, we learn to see the world from different perspectives. (I think of “metaphor” here because we learn to see and describe things “in other terms.”) It is from such multiple perspectives that we develop our creativity. The key is to gain expertise in multiple fields and to continue to be engaged in problem-solving activities, such as “How can we best teach our learners in this situation?”

Here’s a final example: After writing this post, I was thinking about one of the English for business communication (EBC) classes that I teach for undergraduates in Japan.  An idea popped into my mind for uniting “interview skills” with “business case-study analysis” that will enable the students to more quickly understand and communicate the content of the business case studies in class. It felt to me like the discovery of a small but important improvement that brought together different parts of my previous experience, and this blog post triggered the idea.

Good luck with developing your creative genius through ESP!

All the best,

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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