Business Plus Design
Dunne and Martin (2006) suggest that the addition of design thinking to business education better prepares graduates for the business demands of the 21st century. Adler (1997) encourages business schools to actively look towards the arts in order to produce well rounded graduates. Adler suggests that, "The time is right for the cross-fertilization of the arts and leadership" (p. 488). In response, faculty members from a business school developed a partnership with faculty members from the design department of an art school to create a course which integrates business thinking and design thinking to effectively address business problems.
The business/design faculty team developed the course as an action learning consultancy project that incorporates a reflective process into the educational experience. The faculty members organize the students into teams consisting of both business students and design students. Teams are formed with complementary expertise and, when possible, personalities. Each week teams submit a project progress report, and individual students submit a reflection of their observations, learning, their questions, and next steps.
The faculty team plans minilectures, presentations, and workshops by the faculty, clients, and successful, innovative business and design guest speakers. Sessions address presentation skills, business metrics, marketing principles, strategy, project management, finance principles, cost analysis, corporate culture, innovation, design principles, design feasibility, and power issues. Additionally, business students and design students teach each other the essentials of their respective disciplines.
Student teams begin the project by developing and executing a research agenda that involves traditional and innovative approaches to understand both the clients and the issues under study. The students develop surveys, analyze the results, and conduct onsite research at retail outlets.
Each team submits a weekly project team progress report and students submit individual weekly reflections (DeFillippi, 2001; Seibert & Daudelin, 1999; Schon, 1987). The faculty developed a scoring rubric to provide feedback at the midpoint, rehearsals, and final summative grade conference. Faculty analyze the team reports, reflections, documentations of learning, and videos using a text analysis system and the cycle of design thinking (Dunne & Martin, 2006) to identify cognitive, behavioral, and attitudinal change. Faculty assess student learning through evaluation of presentations, PowerPoint slide decks, reflections, documentation of learning, and team assessment. Reviews by the business client and guest faculty members serve as indicators of relevance to the business environment, feasibility, creative thinking, and team performance.
Educational Experiences Aligned With Desired Learning Outcomes
These two courses prepare today's business graduates to become tomorrow's business leaders. They integrate action learning, reflective practice, and interdisciplinary thinking to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required to address business problems in real business environments.
Revans (1983) defines action learning, "as a means of development, emotional or physical that requires its subjects, through responsible involvement in some real, complex and stressful problem, to achieve intended change to improve the observable behavior henceforth in the problem field" (pp. 626-627). The main objective in action learning is to learn how to ask appropriate questions in conditions of risk, rather than to answer questions that have been defined by teachers and do not allow for ambiguous responses because the examiners know the approved answers (Revans, 1983).
Marquardt (2004) suggests that, "all forms of action learning share the elements of real people resolving and taking action on real problems in real time and learning while doing so" (p. 28). Marquardt explains that action learning is strongest when it integrates: (1) a problem (project, challenge, opportunity, issue, or task); (2) an action learning group or team; (3) a process that emphasizes insightful questioning and reflective listening; (4) taking action on the problem; and (5) a commitment to
learning (pp. 28-29).
Marquardt (2004) notes that,
Action learning has rapidly emerged as the primary tool used by organizations such as Sodexho, Novartis, and Nokia for solving their critical and complex problems, while concurrently serving as the key methodology for developing leaders, building teams, and expanding corporate capabilities. (p. 28)
Boulden and DeLaat (2005) report the effective use of action learning in F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., a majority family owned multinational pharmaceutical company employing about 45,000 people.
Moreover, as the issues of sustainability and corporate responsibility mature, organizations are confronted with the need to address learning on two levels: organizational and societal. Rowe and Wehrmeyer (2010) suggest that as social and environmental responsibility issues in corporate sustainability escalate in the priorities of global executives, teaching for learning requires both content knowledge and action learning with reflection on education for sustainability (p. 145). From this perspective, management education is not just learning about sustainability but also is learning for sustainability with focus on intervention so that "ethical values, attitudes, and beliefs can be mediated more directly" (p. 145). As companies such as Nike, Levi Strauss, BP, and Novo Nordisk engaged in the process developing a sense of corporate responsibility, the need for learning about and for social issues that do and or will impact business become critical to not only future sustainability but also corporate survival.
Schón's (1987, 1983) reflective practice model of knowing in action explains how the practitioner uses experience and reflection in and on action to learn and acquire knowledge. Pedler (1997) suggests that a critical reflective approach centers on action that is accompanied by reflection on underlying assumptions and beliefs that shape practice and move one from an individualistic focus to an organizational focus and even to a societal focus.
When an unusual, real-world situation does not fit the individual's current body of knowledge, skills, and attitudes, the discrepancy requires reflection in action which leads to a search for additional information. When the additional information is applied to the unusual real-world situation, it is then subject to reflection on action. This process results in the acquisition, integration, and use of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes that raises the individual's level of expertise. This reflective process then continues in cyclical fashion.
Hay (2007), reporting on an action learning program involving an international consultancy project, "highlight(s) the importance of the unfamiliar context in evoking different ways of seeing, which critically stimulates a challenge of accepted management practice and ideas" (p. 23). Both course designs incorporate a systematic approach to reflective practice to prepare graduates to address business issues that require creative and innovative solutions.
Cross Cultural and Interdisciplinary Partnerships
Today's complex issues and problems require complex solutions that defy the boundaries of individual disciplines. The two courses described above utilize interdisciplinary faculty teams and combine students from different disciplines. In the international consultancy course, students expand their experience and perspective beyond their discipline and their culture. Students report that the experience of working with international colleagues on a business problem within a country not their own broadens their understanding of possible issues and provides them with unique perspectives, strategies, and techniques in relation to both business issues and interpersonal relations that expand upon existing approaches and capabilities.
Maznevski and Chudoba (2000) note that, "Research on multinational teams is far more limited than research on distributed teams, with most of it focusing on the role of cultural composition" (p. 474). Adler (1997) suggests that cultural values influence the perceptual filter through which a person interprets information needed to make decisions. Furthermore, Maznevski and Chudoba (2000) suggest that multicultural groups typically offer higher potential for performance on complex tasks than culturally homogeneous groups. They suggest that the group member's diverse cultural values influence how they interpret information, which in turn enables the team to assess the situation in a holistic manner.
Somewhat similar, in the business plus design course students report that the addition of design thinking to their business approach expands their repertoire of approaches and understanding of multiple perspectives in addressing complex problems. Herbert Simon (1996), in The Sciences of the Artificial, called for the establishment of a rigorous body of knowledge about the design process as a means of approaching managerial problems. Additionally, in Managing as Designing, Boland and Collopy (2004) cite several authors who commented on the parallels between design and management and examined the value of approaching management from a design perspective. Hence, designing a course that adds the elements of action learning, reflective practice, and interdisciplinary thinking develops the means to create an exciting course that builds on critical thinking and other essential elements for career success. This sort of alignment is critical in meeting overall goals as articulated in the first section of this chapter.