Executive Courses in Design Thinking

Executive Courses in Design Thinking

The human-centered approach to problem-solving is becoming a core part of executive education programs

Design thinking is a “human-centered” approach to problem-solving that starts with empathy, or putting yourself in the customers’ shoes to understand their problems and uncover new or unexpected solutions. And its successful use in companies such as Apple, Samsung and Nike has encouraged business schools to add new design thinking courses to their portfolios of executive education programs.   

“Design thinking has several benefits for business transformation, including increased innovation, collaboration, and a more agile approach to projects and product development,” says Anne Trumbore, executive director of executive education the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, which offers the Certificate in Design Thinking.

Darden’s is a hands-on course that empowers participants to generate new ideas and drive innovation. Through three online modules between January and June, participants follow a step-by-step process to identify, test and implement new solutions. “Design thinking has the power to transform how organizations do business,” says Trumbore. “Companies employ design thinking to solve problems, develop new processes, create strategy, and develop products and procedures.”

The design thinking methodology typically involves generating several ideas, prototyping and testing them until a successful solution is found. It was first developed as an academic subject at Stanford University, but it has been applied to sectors from pharmaceuticals to finance.

More business schools offering executive courses in design thinking

It’s also becoming a mainstay in the executive education portfolio. London Business School offers a course entitled, Innovation Through Design Thinking, while MIT Sloan School of Management runs an executive program called Mastering Design Thinking.

“Design thinking is becoming part of the curricula of many business schools around the world,” says Ileana Stigliani, associate professor of design and innovation at Imperial College Business School in London. She teaches on Imperial’s executive education program entitled, Innovation: A Design Thinking Approach, and urges wider adoption of training.  

“It’s imperative that design thinking becomes a core subject in all business schools” says Stigliani. “New technologies, changing customer behaviors and shifting economic and political winds have led to complex challenges requiring innovative solutions that are not business-as-usual.”

Imperial’s is a four-day course that guides participants towards becoming champions of innovation within their organizations. It delivers practical learning experiences that give participants the mindset and practical tools to develop business ideas into commercial propositions. Many courses take a similar, hands-on approach.

A focus on action

“Design thinking is actually not so much about thinking but rather about doing,” says Dirk Deichmann, associate professor at Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University in the Netherlands. “The best way to teach and learn design thinking is by adopting a learning-by-doing approach.”

Accordingly, the Rotterdam school has integrated many small exercises and templates into its design thinking course that executives can try out in real-time in their organization. Over six weeks, the executives learn how to embrace a radically different approach to developing new products and services.

“Companies increasingly realize that successful innovation cannot be accomplished from behind a desk in a comfortable office,” says Deichmann, who directs the program. “You need to reach out and empathize with potential customers to learn about their challenges or latent needs.”

Sihem Jouini, associate professor in the Information Systems and Operations Management department at HEC Paris, agrees, and also emphasizes a practical approach. “Students need to experiment in order to feel the discomfort, uncertainty and divergence associated with any innovation endeavor,” she says. “They need to wander and to get lost in the data collected on the users and in the several ideas generated in order to understand that design thinking can’t be deployed in a mechanistic way like any other management tool.”

She teaches on the Managing Innovation & Design Thinking Course at HEC, a leading French business school. Participants on this short online program learn how to incorporate design thinking and creativity into everyday business practices.

A number of other business schools now offer executive courses centered around design thinking. For instance, INSEAD offers the Design Thinking and Creativity for Business course. The online sessions take executives on a hands-on learning journey that will help them develop the creative-thinking skills needed to innovate in any organizational context.

“Top managers must understand the value that design thinking can bring to their organizations in their own context,” says Manuel Sosa, professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD and director of the program. “Without the long-term authentic support from top-level managers in organizations, design thinking will not be fully adopted and adapted to the resources, processes, and cultures of their organizations.”


Related Business Schools

Virginia - Darden

London Business School

MIT - Sloan

Imperial College

Erasmus - RSM

HEC Paris


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