Teaching Leadership Through Creativity

Emily Barrett, assistant director of communications
Duncan Wardle, former head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, was the university's 2020 Beideman Visiting Scholar
Duncan Wardle, former head of Innovation and Creativity at Walt Disney Company, is the university's 2020 Beideman Visiting Scholar.

Where do you spark your best ideas? In the shower? Driving to class, or relaxing at home? Maybe when you’re falling asleep? According to Duncan Wardle, that cognitive state of creativity is what fuels innovation.

“The definition of creativity is not iteration, it’s innovation,” said Wardle, the former head of Innovation and Creativity at the Walt Disney Company.

Wardle visited Widener as the university’s 2020 Beideman Visiting Scholar. His presentation to an audience of 500 demonstrated Widener’s commitment to programming that sparks innovation across all disciplines, adds to the university’s vibrant campus life, and advances the commitment to transform students into strategic thinkers and leaders. 

Programs like the Beideman Visiting Scholar bring world-class speakers to campus and stimulate discussions on leadership development and the effective exercise of leadership. Alumnus Paul Beideman, vice chair of Widener’s Board of Trustees, and his wife Caroline established the visiting scholar program through the Oskin Leadership Institute. 

For senior nursing major Victoria Cocco, Wardle’s theory of creativity was an opportunity “to learn how creativity can be applied to my career in nursing.” 

Through his talk, Cocco and hundreds of fellow students learned that as we age, we are taught to relinquish our imagination and narrow our thinking. This cultural approach, he argued, creates a creative barrier that inhibits the ability to find that next big idea or solution. 

“As students you will have people tell you time and again that you can’t do it,” Wardle said. “Don’t let anyone tell you no.”

Duncan Wardle engaged with students during his Beideman Visiting Scholar Lecture
Duncan Wardle led students through an interactive discussion to ignite creative thinking during his Beideman Visiting Scholar Lecture.

Through brain teasing and thought-provoking interactive activities, Wardle taught students to flex their creative muscles and encouraged them to find the bravery and curiosity to reconnect with their imaginations. While weaving in tales of his rise to the executive suite at Disney, Wardle demonstrated how tapping into a creative mindset cultivates effective leadership. 

“It’s nice to have different perspectives and see people who were successful how they got to where they are now,” said Alyssa Niedzwiedz, a senior nursing student.

Having access to special events and speakers with insider knowledge like Wardle’s gives Widener students an edge. It puts them on track to revolutionize the careers they are preparing to enter.

This kind of top-flight programming also draws alumni home to re-engage with their Widener family. Jon ‘83 and Nancy Spindel ’83 traveled to campus from their home in Virginia to gain insights from Wardle’s lecture.

“You can go take this into any work place,” said Nancy, a nurse for the University of Virginia Hospital, of the experience. Jon, an engineering professor at James Madison University, echoed Wardle’s message as one students need to hear for personal and professional success.

“These are the skillsets that you really need for the 21st century,” he added.