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Design Thinking In Business Schools

What is one of the most popular concepts being taught at business schools? Design thinking.

Design thinking, according to MIT, is an “innovative problem-solving process rooted in a set of skills.” Originally an approach taken by designers, the term has gain heavy traction in the business world in recent years.

What is Design Thinking and How Does It Apply to Business?

Ileana Stigliani, an Assistant Professor of Design and Innovation at Imperial College Business School, breaks down the concept of design thinking clearly in a Financial Times article.

“When BMW sells a car, it knows what customers want,” Stigliani explains in her article. “But the company also steps back to understand why they want it. What does a car mean to someone? How does it fit his or her lifestyle? How will people feel about their cars in the future?”

These are the types of questions that design thinking tries to highlight. Questions that go beyond simply using analytical skills to attack a problem, but actually understanding the basis of the problem and how to address it.

“At the heart of design thinking is the ability to empathise with the people you are designing a service or product for,” Stigliani writes her article ‘Design thinking is the key to successful innovation.’ “As we progressively move towards a world dominated by technology, preserving products and services which are operated by humans rather than machines has never been more important.”

The design thinking process, according to MIT, is broken down into four steps:

  • Understand the problem at hand
  • Explore a wide variety of possible solutions
  • Iterate extensively through prototyping and testing
  • Implement through the customary deployment mechanisms

How Business Schools are Teaching Design Thinking

A number of business schools have implemented design thinking into their studies. At Imperial, design thinking is offered as a core module in the full-time MBA program, according to The Economist.

The eight-week module focuses on experiential learning and students are encouraged to utilize thinking across various disciplines, The Economist reports. Simply put, the module is created to push students to look at problems in a unique way and going beyond simply using analytical skills.

At UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, a course entitled “Applied Design Thinking for Business Innovation: The Netherlands” provides students an interactive, experiential approach to learning about user-centric innovation. Students can partake in fieldwork at the THNK School of Creative Leadership in Amsterdam where they will focus on a client and business issue. Through the course, students utilize design thinking techniques to generate new ideas and solutions. Ultimately, students pitch their ideas to company executives.

Design Thinking Goes Hand-in-Hand with Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, has become the newest requirement amongst MBA programs. At NYU’s Stern School of Business, applicants are required to submit an EQ endorsement. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Tim Brown – CEO of IDEO, discussed design thinking. He says empathy and collaboration are two integral components of a design thinker’s personality portfolio. Empathy, Brown says, is taking a “people’s first” approach. Think stepping into another’s shoes. On top of empathy, collaboration is another quality of a design thinker.

“The best design thinkers don’t simply work alongside other disciplines, many of them have significant experience in more than one,” Brown writes.

Betsy Massar is the founder of Master Admissions. In an interview with Poets & Quants, Massar says schools are increasingly seeking applicants who have high EQ.

“I think they (schools) are looking for traits and potential, and some people will show more self-awareness and emotional intelligence than others,” Massar says. “Still, both those characteristics are really important indicators of success in any organization, whether it is a business school or a place of employment. I think they are looking for maturity, and emotional intelligence can be considered on measure of that trait.”

Sources: Financial Times, Imperial College Business School, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, Poets & Quants

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