FTMBA Gianfranco Zacci

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With the rise of the internet, social media, digital communication and business, globalised trading and constantly evolving technologies, complexity has become a fundamental part of every modern business. Overcoming the challenges businesses now face and making the most of the arising opportunities requires more than just traditional problem solving.

There’s a growing acknowledgement that organisations have to think across their internal structures and cannot simply apply a predefined methodology and toolkit.  An innovative group of experts are leading a new approach to enable organisations, from start-ups to multinational corporations, to address the complex multi-faceted problems they face today. This approach is called design thinking, and is taught to Full-Time MBA students at Imperial.

In 2016 Imperial College Business School launched a new module for our Full-Time MBA students to help them develop these skills.

Design thinking is at the interface between humans and technology and it is essential to enable organisations to tackle complex problems. Companies such as IBM, GE, Deloitte and McKinsey are all developing their capacity for using design thinking throughout their organisations. While traditional ‘problem solving skills’ have been a staple of a MBA studies for decades, Full-Time MBA students at Imperial will develop the skills and mindset to be truly innovative in meeting the opportunities and challenges of business in a 21st century, globalised and digital world.

Module leader and Assistant Professor of Design and Innovation, Dr Ileana Stigliani, posed the challenge of defining the term “design” in the students’ first lecture. The MBA class generated a range of ideas around expensive products, designer brands, beauty, art and creativity. Whilst these are all important, design in the context of design thinking is concerned with how something works as well as how it looks. In particular, design is what allows translating creative ideas into successful innovations.

Ileana explained to the MBAs that design thinking is about developing products and services that meet the subconscious needs of users to allow these products and services to stand out in the market. The focus is human-centred, based on the user experience and their emotional engagement with a product or services. Design thinking also encourages the use of models and prototypes throughout the creative process to develop a solution: encouraging ideas to grow and develop instead of insisting on “right first time”. It is a way to develop a new mindset, a creative process that helps find innovative solutions to problems and gives you the confidence to act on ideas. This module encourages MBA students to adopt such a mindset, as well as giving them the opportunity to gain practical experience and meet with world-leading entrepreneurs.

As part of the module, a number of external subject experts are contributing the discussions. In their first week on the module, the students attended a talk from Tim Brown, a global leader on design thinking. A TED Talk speaker, Tim is also President and CEO of IDEO, an innovation and design consulting firm, which has been ranked in the top 10 most innovative organisations in the world.

A graduate of the Master’s in Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art (RCA), Tim is familiar with Imperial’s South Kensington campus; “In my opinion Imperial is in the single best place on the planet as a business school to be exploring design thinking because there’s a tradition of design thinking in the air in this little part of town that has been going on longer than almost anywhere in the world.”

Tim outlined the benefits of studying design thinking to the MBA class, “there’s a massive talent shortage of designers in the world. This is why it’s incredibly valuable to have students in a business school begin to study design thinking.” The proximity of the Business School to the Royal College of Art offers a unique opportunity for students to engage and bring together technology and design in an entrepreneurial environment.

Another external contributor to the module was Gianfranco Zaccai, President and CDO of Continuum, an innovative company specialising in digital, service and product design. As well as presenting to the students, Zaccai was involved in judging the final presentations and giving feedback to MBA students. He stated that “congratulations are in order for providing your class with solid insights in the “Design Thinking” process. I think that several of the groups have identified potential opportunities for human centered innovations.”

This new module is one of many initiatives focused on innovation and design at Imperial College London such as the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design challenge and the launch of the Dyson School of Design Engineering in 2015. It is at the heart of Imperial College Business School’s mission: to drive global business and social transformation through the fusion of business, technology and an entrepreneurial mindset.

Design Thinking Tim Brown

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Hannah Edwards

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