Design Thinking

Carleen Kerttula, the director of program innovation at the Opus College of Business, discusses moving to a more market-driven and entrepreneurial business model.

Everyone is talking about disruption. The disruptive force of technology has changed the very nature of how we bank, shop and communicate. We’ve seen seismic shifts in the way people interact, share, learn and do. These technological advances, along with significant marketplace changes and globalization, rock the very world in which we all operate.

Management educators are impacted by these changes as both creators and disseminators of knowledge. As the historical source of business management expertise, our research agendas and subjects have expanded greatly with the growth of global economies and the formation of new business models. We have embraced social entrepreneurship, globalization, sustainability and business analytics as new areas of research, all while assessing the ongoing validity and viability of traditional research areas. We also have expanded our research models, working more collaboratively with our local business community to support its efforts to grow in a time of intense competition and rapid change.

Simultaneously, through the teaching mission of the universities in which we sit, we disseminate knowledge. The primary way we do that – the factory-based classroom model – is in a state of incredible flux as well. The rules of engagement that have existed undisrupted for decades now are changing by the minute. Traditional universities have been slow to adopt more efficient and cost-effective delivery models, embrace personalized, adaptive student learning and respond to the education-to-employment gap. Others are doing it around us, and quickly. We’ve seen a new surge in the flow of venture capital funding toward technologies and services related to education, which will drive invention and stimulate adoption within higher education.

We must move from a model that has been based on prestige and insulation to one that is more market-driven and entrepreneurial. It’s both daunting and exciting, and I feel incredibly privileged to work in this space as director of program innovation at the Opus College of Business.

So, how will we do it?

We’ll start small.

We have a series of continuous improvement projects underway at the college that will lead to incremental innovations across our educational programs. These will proceed under our traditional review and redesign processes. At the same time, we will select a few pressing areas – ill-defined problems – and apply a different approach to creative action, one that enables us to use both divergent thinking (to consider many solutions) and convergent thinking (to test and implement the best one).

We’ll employ a design-thinking approach.

Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, defines the goal of design thinking as “matching people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and viable as a business strategy.” Using this approach, we’ll define, research, consider, prototype, choose, implement and learn – all in a more rapid fashion. These small experiments will lead us to design experiences that align more closely to the changing needs of our learners and our business community.

We’ll accept failures and learn from them.

Design thinking works best in an environment free of fear and resistance, one in which people are solution-oriented and accept failures as learning opportunities. The design-thinking process will be supported by innovation-friendly practices, and intentional and visible efforts to highlight and reward attempts even if they fail.

Our stakeholders will benefit from an Opus College of Business community that is more entrepreneurial and energized.

Through this transformation we will build more meaningful partnerships between the Opus College of Business and Minnesota business and community organizations.

When we adopt a design mindset, we understand that there can be many solutions for a given situation and that all design requires piloting. As we build this mindset, our goal is to improve partnering engagements with businesses and community organizations. Opportunities abound to work collectively to solve regional and global challenges, and it is important for universities to engage deeply and meaningfully in this work as co-creators.

The college has a long history of delivering educational experiences that connect managerial theory to business practice – to the great benefit of the students and professionals we serve. Our ability to develop even more relevant, student-centered learning hinges on a willingness to more quickly design and redesign our offerings. When students are provided the opportunity to personalize their experiences and connect content learning to contextual situations, deep learning occurs, and we all win.

All of this is important work. The future of the Opus College of Business rests on our ability to embrace change and innovate. We welcome your engagement as alumni, community and business leaders, and current students, in our efforts.

Carleen Kerttula is the director of program innovation at the Opus College of Business. Before joining the college, Kerttula served as executive director of the MBA Roundtable, a global association of 175 business schools working together to inspire curricular innovation in MBA education, and as assistant dean and director of the full-time MBA program at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

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