In 2005 I started a new role as Clark Fellow of Design Leadership at Said Business School, University of Oxford. That was a five-year research fellowship which enabled me to explore some the intersections between designing and managing and organising as a researcher and educator.
By being located in a top business school, within an ancient university that international scholars liked to pop in on when in the UK, I had extraordinary access to the diversity of disciplines and networks that make up management education and research. Part of my role involved setting up, teaching and examining a new elective on design for the MBA. Since the fellowship ended in 2010, I have continued to teach the elective each year and remain an Associate Fellow at the school collaborating with some of the faculty, in particular Rafael Ramirez and Steve New.
This website captures the intentions behind my elective and shares year by year some of the activities and wonderful guest speakers and studios students were able to learn from. The “Designing Better Futures” elective attempts to give management students practical access to contemporary design practices, informed by several different research traditions.
Over the years I have tried out different models and formats, in response to timetabling constraints, student feedback and inspiration from similar educational initiatives.
I have concluded that what works for MBA students at Oxford is
- Problem based learning – ideally in response to a challenge set by and actively involving an organisational partner or partners
- Practical exploration of what are loosely called design methods or design thinking by applying them to the partner organisation’s challenge
- Collaboration with designers or design students for example through a two-day “sprint” project responding to the challenge, often in London
- Opportunities to visit and hear from leading design firms, usually in London
- Practical sessions integrated with theoretical insights from research
- Two kinds of assessment: a reflective paper in which students discuss their experiences of the elective, drawing on some of the literature; and a more traditional assignment which discusses the use of strategic design approaches in contemporary organisations and ideally involves original research by students.
Having got to know a particular institution and some of its students and faculty gave me confidence to start taking forward some of my own concerns about what MBA education does not seem to enable. At Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, I was able to build this into a vision and strategy for a new kind of management education which, in partnership with Birkbeck, is about to be launched as a joint MBA course from 2017.
I look forward to continuing to shape that, as well as trying out other new experiments such as teaching a design module on a new BSc/MSc Management Science at University College London. My book Service Innovation Handbook which is based on MBA class materials iterated over the past decade is about to be reprinted. I’m about to launch some short courses in design thinking for managers and civil servants at my new home, University of the Arts London’s Innovation Insights Hub, as well as more experimental teaching and learning formats including a data studio and a futures studio.
Meanwhile the world is ever more complex and conflicted. The need to think and do things differently, including generating and exploring new kinds of organisational and societal response, is ever more urgent. Educating managers, entrepreneurs, or civil servants in ways of thinking and doing still seems, to me, to be useful and interesting.
It’s time to take stock, and while a short blog post is not quite that, it marks the end of one phase and indicates a transition to another.