Bob Neubert: Building Innovation and Creativity, One Game at a Time

Portrait of Filomena Critelli.

Bob Neubert, Clinical Assistant Professor of Operations Management and Strategy, has an infectious energy when it comes to entrepreneurship. This time, he has brought his exuberance to an innovative way to teach entrepreneurship skills.

It all started with some simple observations. First, when starting a new company, there is no playbook for guidance. Instead, entrepreneurs find themselves in an environment of ambiguity and uncertainty, and many find themselves unprepared to operate effectively in such an environment. “They need to show leadership, be collaborative and build teams, all in a fast moving environment of ambiguity,” Bob says. These “softer” skills are the ones students may lack, but how do you assess these kinds of skills, and if you can’t assess them, how do you address them through learning outcomes and course activities? As someone who knows the power of experiential learning, Bob knew he needed to put students in “messy” situations with ambiguity and competition while also fostering cooperation. “And I thought, you know what? That’s a game.”

He soon found that games do work in fostering these skills. Bob was inspired by escape rooms, in which he saw leadership qualities and effective problem solving emerging in students without any formal instruction. They may try to find the “right answer” in a classroom, but in a game, students allow themselves to be creative. “They’re forming alliances faster,” Bob notes, “they’re coming up with creative solutions, they’re forming collaborative partnerships across teams, they’re okay with ambiguity, they’re considering the mindsets of others. It’s just really cool to see.”

Bob has been developing and implementing various escape room kinds of games throughout the summer and fall semester and has gotten students involved in developing and administering the games. Because he has already seen how effective these games can be, he hopes to expand their reach beyond entrepreneurship and beyond the university setting. For instance, he used one of the games to help Prof. John Atkinson’s students bond and work together before they all study abroad together in Costa Rica over the winter break.

In the future, he plans to make videos of these escape room sessions using the technology in the new Faculty Collaboration Studio in 6 Norton Hall so that he can begin to research how these games work to foster entrepreneurship-related skills. He also hopes to create shareable videos of the games that can be used and adapted by others, from high schools to non-profits, to suit specific needs and related skills for students and employees. Bob recognizes that the world is rapidly changing, and the skills that can be developed in these games might be the most important capabilities to have. “If UB can build this mindset of innovation and creativity, what could be more valuable?”

As an ELN Faculty Fellow, Bob has been able to work on this project with the support of the Experiential Learning Network. Other faculty with innovative ideas for undergraduate education are encouraged to apply to become a faculty fellow!

Written by Amanda Hellwig ‘19