Escape rooms can activate your creativity and alternative thinking

Escape rooms can be much more than just a game: they can trigger learning and set in motion emotional and social competences.

As part of a student-centred experience, Esade lecturer Carlos Royo is testing an innovative educational idea outside the classroom: an on-campus escape room to analyse competences in a real-life scenario.

When designed correctly, Royo says, escape rooms can be good for businesses. They can help executives improve their leadership skills as well as their emotional and social competences.

Do Better: What type of competences can escape rooms activate?

Carlos Royo: Escape rooms activate competences that are pretty evident, such as goal orientation and teamwork. But they also trigger several other competences: emotional self-control, adaptability, empathy, influence, conflict management, systemic thinking, pattern recognition, alternative thinking and creativity.

Escape rooms can help executives improve their leadership skills

It’s much more than just a game. How is creativity triggered?

Escape rooms trigger creativity by forcing participants to search for solutions that don’t follow logical patterns that you would normally use. The experience also makes participants think outside the box and take risks to try alternative solutions that step out of the norm. An escape room forces you to move away from unilateral thinking and learn to search for alternatives. The experience activates lateral thinking – that is, learning to solve problems using creativity and reasoning that are not immediately obvious.

How is creativity connected to leadership?

Both creativity and alternative thinking bring about leadership styles that stand out from the crowd. We often think of the leader as someone who tells others what to do. But in an escape room, we also observe a different type of leader: executives who adopt an observer role and act as connectors between participants who would otherwise get separated in the game.

Esade escape room
Esade participants trying to solve one of the enigmas while observers analyse their competences (Photo: CEI – Center for Educational Innovation/Esade)

These leaders act as unifiers. They are more affiliative, more democratic, and they play a very important role in the whole process. We also associate this behaviour with the idea that leadership no longer goes in just one direction. It goes in many directions – especially in changing environments like the ones we’re facing nowadays.

Creativity and alternative thinking bring about leadership styles that stand out from the crowd

What other competences are activated in escape rooms?
Another competence that often comes up is influence. Since escape rooms are time-constrained, when someone gets stuck in one of the enigmas and the clock is ticking, it is crucial to have people capable of convincing others to try something different to get unstuck. 

Influence and conflict management are both necessary skills in escape rooms. In this type of real-life experience, we see that some people have a special ability to convince others and find ways of solving conflicts to guide others in one direction or another.

Influence and conflict management are both necessary skills in escape rooms

Does teamwork vary among groups?

Definitely. We have observed that some groups work in a very homogeneous way – they all work together to solve the same enigma. But other groups decide to split up and work separately on different clues while working together towards the same goal. And some people disconnect from the activity if you don’t do what they think must be done.


Another pattern we have observed is that some participants like to grab the gadget to take control of the situation. Many people hold onto the gadget. In our feedback sessions, we tell them: How good are you at delegating? How good are you at relinquishing control and letting others take it?

You detect micromanagers!

Most likely. These are people who don’t know how to delegate and who need to control everything. 

Escape rooms could be used in hiring processes...

We are transforming a fun experience into a tool that has the potential to validate people’s emotional and social competences. Our escape room still needs more testing, but someday it could be used in hiring processes. Instead of relying on static assessment tests, it would allow HR departments to detect in situ whether the candidate’s skills are valid in real-life scenarios. This could potentially prevent mismatches and save a lot of hiring headaches in the long run.

How did you design the escape room experience?

We took into account competences that are relevant for management, as well as their underlying values. The escape room challenges activate different emotional and social competences and values linked to collaboration, knowledge and excellence.

What’s next?

Our next step is to conduct research based on this escape room model to systematise participant feedback and further validate this new learning experience.

The Esade escape room initiative is a joint collaboration between Esade and Mystery Escape.

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