Thursday, April 22, 2010

What happens when you turn a business school into a studio for a day

Seminar Room A during the break when the MBAs and the MDes students from the London College of Communications were having lunch

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

MBA Design Leadership elective 2010

This is the fifth and most likely final year of my MBA elective in Design Leadership at Said Business School, University of Oxford. My five-year post ends in September and the school is not renewing the fellowship. However tomorrow I look forward to teaching the course, this year with 50 MBA students (out of 225 or so students).

Over the five years the basic principles have remained consistent, drawing on my own art and design education and ongoing research including:
- a commitment to experiential learning
- hands-on playful exploration of studio-based approaches to concept generation and exploration
- opportunities to collaborate with designers
- reading from a range of fields including design theory, sociology and organisation studies
- insights from leading practitioners including Bill Moggridge (IDEO), Joe Ferry (Virgin Atlantic), Chris Downs (livework), Indy Johar (zerozero) and Andrew McGrath (Orange).

When I designed this course, I had a very open brief to create a new elective that would give students an opportunity to learn about design and design management. The school chose the name 'Design Leadership' because that term was being promoted at the time among some practitioners within design management, but it has since been eclipsed by the term 'Design Thinking', another problematic term (see my paper Design Practices in Design Thinking offering a critique). Back then there were hardly any MBA courses with such electives, let alone design-based teaching in the core of business education. Now there are several, although rarely devised and taught by someone from an art and design background, but these developments are still quite minor within the current way of doing things within management schools.

For those interested in such approaches, key business schools to look at are Rotman, Weatherhead, Stanford's d-school and Imperial College, London. In addition a number of design and engineering schools have created new post-graduate programmes based on similar ideas. It has been a great pleasure to get to know some of the faculty who have developed these courses and have a dialogue with them - an effort that is being enabled in particular by Dick Boland and Fred Collopy at Weatherhead whose 2002 workshop 'Managing as Designing' and this year's 'Convergence' event have been particularly inspiring as spaces for critical reflection.

In a context in which the MBA is being challenged (see the current discussion on the HBR blog and ongoing commentary by Bruce Nussbaum and colleagues at Business Week, not to mention a number of excellent books), these efforts are important efforts to reconceive of management education. I have learned a great deal from the students who have taken my elective and from some of my colleagues, as well as many others such as Armand Hatchuel at Ecole des Mines. However since I will be leaving Said in a few months - and I'm disappointed to be doing so - I may not be engaged in these questions in such a hands-on way in the immediate future. For now, back to the prep for tomorrow's prototyping workshop.