Learning to Innovate

BusinessWeek recently published a great piece about the growing trend of using design thinking as a means to teach people how to innovate.  I’m particularly proud that the Mozilla project from the Creating Infectious Action class I co-taught with Bob Sutton is the lead story in the article:

Tech geeks love
Mozilla’s Firefox browser, which is impervious to most viruses, but
mainstream America has yet to embrace it. How does Mozilla move beyond
invention (cool browser, neat functions) to an innovation that
translates into market success (a Net tool so hot it upends Microsoft’s
Corp.’s Explorer)? It’s a perfect problem for a classroom case study. So last
spring, Mozilla’s business development team turned to Stanford
University. But instead of going to the business school, they headed
for the double-wide trailer that housed Stanford’s Hasso Plattner
Institute of Design, dubbed the "D-school" on campus. The course was
team-taught by Stanford profs and industry professionals. Each student
worked in a team that included a B-schooler, a computer science major,
and a product designer. And each team used design thinking to shape a
business plan for Mozilla.

It made a big difference. A B-school class would have started with a
focus on market size and used financial analysis to understand it. This
D-school class began with consumers and used ethnography, the latest
management tool, to learn about them. Business school students would
have developed a single new product to sell. The D-schoolers aimed at
creating a prototype with possible features that might appeal to
consumers. B-school students would have stopped when they completed the
first good product idea. The D-schoolers went back again and again to
come up with a panoply of possible winners.

This is a great overview of both the class we taught and the philosophy behind it.  There’s a big difference between knowing how to analyze a business situation versus knowing how to create and execute on a business innovation problem.  For more on what we did in the class, here’s a post I wrote earlier this year, and best of all is this post by Bob Sutton, which rightfully celebrates the students from the class. 

One thing I’d like to make clear is that I’m not anti-MBA.  Far from it.  I value my management education a great deal, and believe that an MBA provides individuals with very useful set of analytical tools, as well as the ability to thin-slice most business situations.  However, I do think that the typical MBA program is mostly focused on becoming a master of business-as-usual, which is a critical body of knowledge when it comes to running a profitable organization.  One way (and the best way, I believe) to learn how to engage in innovative behavior is to become a master of business-by-design, and that’s what we’re doing in our Business + Design classes at the Stanford d.school.  Organizations need to know how to do both.  And those organizations need doers and innovators who can bridge the worlds of business-as-usual and business-by-design.

3 thoughts on “Learning to Innovate

  1. Innovation notes and thoughts

    As a child, I was very much mathematical, logical and disciplined. My natural tendencies towards impulsiveness and passionate outbursts were channeled into socially acceptable (even desirable) vehicles, methods and mechanisms. As time has passed, I hav…

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