As part of the ‘Educational’ component, the Sauder d.studio offers strategic design and creative business thinking courses for undergraduate and MBA students. Knowledge gained by the d-studio alumni, as a result of these courses, has assisted them in other areas of their lives. Through personal interviews, their experiences with these strategic design courses are being documented into success stories. Written in a case study format, these success stories focuses on how six Sauder d.studio alumni have used strategic design or creative business thinking to solve a specific challenge in their career or academic courses.
Cole Nakatani and Andrei Pop
Cole Nakatani, is a recent Sauder BCOM graduate (2011) in Marketing and Sustainability, and Andrei Pop, a self-taught web developer and Political Science graduate from UBC. Together, Cole and Andrei co-founded Ideahack Creative – a web development and communications studio. Working collaboratively, Cole manages the business and development aspect of building relationships with clients, while Andrei takes on a designer and developer role.
Both Cole and Andrei are former students of the ‘Design Strategies for Business Innovation’ course, and the two were teammates in the class. Inspired by the book “Wild Act – Change by Design” by Tim Brown, Andrei decided to take the course because the book has shaped his approach as to how he should be using strategic design to solve problems. For Cole, the d.studio class was an opportunity for him to explore new learning experiences in a different environment.
From the course, Cole has been able to improve his ability to think and solve problems. Specifically, he talked about how the Business Model Canvas and the Customer-Value Canvas Map were useful tools in helping him with the problem-solving process and enabling him to put himself into the shoes of a customer. For Andrei, he learnt that it took time to break away from the traditional education of getting good grades and maintaining a “great teacher-student relationship.” As strategic design is more about a development process rather than simply being results driven, it required most people to adjust to it.
Despite their different takeaways, both agreed that the d.studio course had prepared them to deal with uncertainty better. It has provided them with the ability to adapt to new environments and has taught them to use strategic design to overcome challenges. As Andrei mentioned, “it (the d.studio class) has allowed us to succeed in our early stages of setting up Ideahack.”
Challenge: To attract a larger pool of prospective high-quality Sauder School of Business’s applicants into accepting the school’s application offer.
Process: During the admission period, the Sauder School of Business hired Ideahack Creativity to work on its communications strategy to attract higher caliber BCOM applicants into accepting the school’s offer. Many of these high-caliber students were also given offers from other top-notch schools around the world. The team employed a user-driven approach to dictate what direction the marketing campaign should take. They decided to focus their ideas from a student’s perspective. As part of the process, the team spoke to several prospective students to find out what was key in making their decisions between schools. Through primary and secondary customer research, the team discovered that video and interactive web were the best means to communicate to students. They realized that the students preferred not to have to read paragraphs upon paragraphs of text and rather be captivated through high quality content and relevant delivery vehicles such as video and the web. Additionally, the team also realized that what the students really want was to feel that they mattered.
Outcome(s): Eventually, the team created high impact and succinct videos coupled with beautiful visuals and an interactive online experience to make it more personalized for the students.
Peder Sande, a Sauder d.studio alumnus, is currently working as an Instructional Designer in Leadership Development in lululemon athletica (lululemon). Prior to this, he was a Digital Innovation Researcher and Intern at lululemon. Taking the ‘Design strategies for Business Innovation’ course has allowed him to apply strategic design to his career.
As an Instructional Designer, his role is to bring his mobile user experience background to the team. That is, using technology to supplement and enhance the personal development experience for the entire organization within the support sector, retail operations, and store management. Another core responsibility of Peder is to teach strategic design to different departments by incorporating such processes when facilitating large projects and programs. Together with a project manager, the process entails scoping and understanding the design challenge of the design experience, collecting information from users, and synthesizing the information to become feasible ideas.
Challenge: One past example where Peder used strategic design to solving a challenge was when there was a communication breakdown in a ‘storytelling area’ project.
Process: Within the Brand department, the team had to develop a creative process to create a ‘storytelling area’— weekly campaigns of interesting content about lululemon that would show up on its social feeds. The project involved many people from different groups, such as the visual team, the creative team, only to name a few. At one point, the creative process was quite broken, as information was not transmitted effectively and things were simply passed from group to group. The group had to take a step back and worked in smaller teams to understand the creative process. As part of the process, the group created an Experience Map/ Experience Blueprint, where different teams tried different prototypes, such as creating creative boards, jotting down different ideas into channels, and organizing the ideas so that the bigger picture can be seen.
Outcome(s): Eventually, the team created a derivative of a Business Canvas Model. It acts as a strategic tool that lists the team’s challenges on it. With the Canvas, it allowed the team to see blind spots and visualize the bigger picture. Although Peder no longer manages the project, it is still alive.
Adam Ferguson is a current MBA candidate. A commerce undergraduate from the University of Alberta, he has spent 5 years working in the supply chain and operations sector. Adam decided to do an MBA to challenge himself academically and professionally, while considering new career options simultaneously.
During his past roles in the operations sector, he has been able to use interviewing and observational techniques for process designing. Specifically, he refers to the ‘5 Whys’ in the interview process, where it allows him to take a step back and probe into deeper questions. He also mentioned that the simple action of walking around with a notepad to record observations was a good way to build interview questions.
Currently, Adam is doing an internship with Vancity – Canada’s largest credit union, where he is strategic consultant to one of Vancity’s clients, ClimateSmart. His role is to assist ClimateSmart in analyzing their current business model and to provide insights and recommendations on its ongoing growth strategies. To do so, he has been involved in research, analysis, personal discussions, interviews, and even leading a strategic design workshop. His experience leading the strategic design workshop led Adam to realize how important strategic design techniques are to build team rapport, organize his thoughts, and reveal valuable findings for change management.
Moving forward, Adam sees great potential and value in increasing his personal knowledge about strategic design. Not only will he be reading more business creativity book such as ‘Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Business Creativity’ by Michael Michalko, he also wishes to apply more techniques to his current internship and group projects.
Challenge: To deliver a strategic plan on business development for ClimateSmart.
Process: One of the areas of business development was client acquisition. During a review with a group of nine staff, Adam introduced a technique called ‘Assumption Dumption’, where he framed the focus of the problem – client acquisition – onto a piece of paper. The team then went through and listed out the key deep assumptions around client acquisition, after which they reversed the assumptions and thought of ways they could reach the reversed state. For example, the team had an assumption that customers were not interested in the company. Flipping that around, they brainstormed ideas on how to generate interest amongst customers. With that, the team was able to discover valuable insights that they had never thought of before.
Outcome(s): It was a reflecting moment for the team and Adam. Beyond the great ideas that resulted from this technique, the team realized that they were limiting themselves because of the implicit dogmatic assumptions and saw the value in taking a step back and questioning the norm. As for Adam, he personally learnt more about the role of a facilitator and realized that aspects of strategic design are often foreign to people, and that teams need to be warmed up before they can embrace the approach. In the end, the process resulted with a new corporate initiative that the team was passionate about.
Annie Lambla is an MBA Candidate. She grew up in North Carolina and has lived in Turkey and France before moving to Vancouver from Chicago. In Chicago, Annie managed an independent grocery store and ran a project called “The Yogurt Pedaler” that advocated for local food in Midwestern communities.
Living in countries where values differ from her own, she has enjoyed the multi-cultural and challenging aspects of learning from various perspectives. Throughout her experiences, she never fails to push her boundaries and ask ‘Why’ – which Annie believes to be an integral part of the creative process.
Possessing a desire for entrepreneurship and creativity, Annie valued the community engagement she has gained from her past projects and decided to take an MBA to challenge herself. In particular, she took the ‘Creative Business Thinking: A Nordic Approach’ course to learn how to apply creative processes. More importantly, under the mentorship of Balder and Moura, her biggest takeaway would be learning the importance of communicating and working in a group. Among all her other MBA projects, this was the first that required a lot of time and dedication to working together in a group. Previously, it was possible to overlook conflicts or goals, but from this course, Annie understood the significance of stating any assumptions and expectations at the beginning, just like in any studio learning environment which places an emphasis on collaborative teamwork.
Currently, Annie is doing an internship with Vancity Community Foundation – a public charity that manages charitable donations based on sustainable and responsible investment practices. She is leading the pilot year of the Demonstrating Value “Farmers’ Market Impact Toolkit.”
Challenge: To design a Farmers’ Market Impact Toolkit.
Process: The purpose of this toolkit is to give farmers’ market managers the means to collect, analyze, and communicate the value that farmers’ markets bring to their communities. As there were many facets to consider about a farmers’ market, such as the farmers, the customers, and other business partners, Annie used a ‘value chain’ process to conceptualize the project. This was especially important as the process allowed her to evaluate the various elements of a farmers’ market’s network and impacts. For example, she used this process to tap into the community impact, building, and social growth she believed a farmers’ market would bring. She brainstormed about questions such as how food is being passed from an individual to another and how money is circulated to keep a famers’ market operating. To supplement this, she developed prototypes of survey materials and communication tools. For example, she created a ‘snapshot’ – which is ultimately a visual dashboard summarizing the impact of the farmers’ market. From this, she realized that the critical convergent part of the creative process was essential for such a project, because without the focus of integrating these processes, the balance between creating a tool that is useful to the business of the farmers’ market as well as useful to its community and stakeholders would be lost.
Outcome(s): This project is still ongoing but the greatest insight gained is that their initial assumptions about what is important to a farmers’ market were completely wrong. However, the work environment at Vancity Community Foundation supports this kind of learning experience, where experimentation (the Ask Try Do design process) is encouraged as new lessons emerge from its successes and failures.
Dann Chow is currently an MBA student. Coming from a background in mechanical and biomedical engineering, Dann had spent the last 10 years working in the commercialization of early stage technology, engaging scientists and engineers to bring their ideas to the market. Working primarily in the energy industry in Alberta previously, Dann decided to move to Vancouver as he wanted to focus on the environmental and sustainability sector. Currently, he is working as an intern with Chrysalix – a venture capital firm investing in early stage companies with technologies that generate, use and manage energy more efficiently.
Having a misconception that creativity is all about “thinking freely”, coming out of the ‘Creative Business Thinking: A Nordic Approach’ course has taught Dann that creativity can be focused to generate useful ideas. He also realized that creativity does happen unconsciously, and understood the challenge of recording such thoughts. When asked if he could apply the creativity techniques learnt to other aspects of his life, “perhaps planning for my wedding anniversary” is what he said!
Challenge: One of Dann’s projects at Chrysalix is to analyze and draw conclusions from a large set of data. The aim is to help Chrysalix use the data to define a strategy for moving forward.
Process: As this was a rather open-ended task, Dann applied creativity through to questioning. He spent time coming up with better definitions of the questions, addressing the right questions before generating solutions, and brainstorming for potential questions. Coming into this project with no preconceived notion, Dann also listed the assumptions and flipped them around to see which of these were valid. Additionally, he practiced ‘cognitive inhibition’ – being aware that his mind was thinking of the project unconsciously, and allowing his thoughts to simmer and not jump into answering the questions immediately.
Outcome(s): This project is still ongoing but Dann has been able to generate more directed and useful questions than answers.
Challenge: As part of a short-term course project, Dann’s team worked with a Vancouver sightseeing bus tour company on how the company could expand their business.
Process: To tackle such an open-ended question, the team brainstormed a free range of ideas to address the question, such as growing into different market segments, offering different products, and using different technologies. They also filtered through certain assumptions and were able to generate more focused questions. However, the company had certain specific constraints that were not part of the brainstorming activities. And since there was not a representative stakeholder at the sessions, the team had also filtered away constraints that the company would like to have kept.
Outcome(s): The team came to a realization that as much as it was important to have external and non-biased insights, it was also good to have internal individuals who were knowledgeable about the company. After all, creative business thinking is all about a co-creative and collaborative process!
Megan Duffy is a fourth year Marketing and International Business student from Boulder, Colorado, USA. As a child, Megan has enjoyed watching commercials, and this interest has inspired her to pursue a degree in Marketing. As a student, she worked as a Communications Assistant with UBC Go Global—a centre that develops and facilitates international learning opportunities through study, research, and service learning – helping Go Global with its marketing and promotion of their programs.
Megan’s biggest takeaway from the ‘Design Strategies for Business Innovation’ course was discovering and analyzing her thinking process to generate the most effective outcomes. Previously, she would look at a problem and jump straight to its solutions. Now, she talks about using a brainstorming process to list out her alternatives. In particular, she enjoys the notion of ‘Ask, Try, Do’ and ‘Free Writing’ – a writing process that generates one’s ideas and helps one to practice silencing his or her critical voice and letting his or her creative voice speak. She has also been more open-minded in listening to others’ ideas as they work through a thinking process.
How has the d.studio benefited her? “I talk about it all the time to my classmates and I’ve used it in my Marketing classes, especially since we are working to deliver an idea for a client 90% of the time!” Megan responded enthusiastically.
Challenge: One of Megan’s roles at Go Global was to develop an internal communications plan to spread awareness about its programs to the student population.
Process: Using the ‘Ask, Try, Do’ process, Megan and her employer reviewed past events to determine weakest areas that did not work, after which they spent three days to brainstorm the wildest ideas. With that, they used the ‘6 Thinking Hats’ process to filter and combine their ideas accordingly. In particular, they used the ‘Black Thinking Hat’ to look at the constraints of their ideas and the ‘Green Thinking Hat’ to look for opportunities to develop the ideas together.
Outcome(s): A communications plan was created and will be used for the academic 2012/2013 year.
Challenge: To revamp the students’ experience for a photo and video contest.
Process: Go Global has an annual photo and video contest, where students submit pieces of their exchange experiences. Over the years, there is a decline in the quality – students were submitting photos reflecting the “fun and partying” aspect rather than the “learning experience” that Go Global would like to highlight. Using the ‘Ask, Try, Do’ process, Megan and her team brainstormed from a student’s perspective. To facilitate this, they held a focus group to find out how students would want to express their exchange experiences and what would enable them to delve deeper into how they could express themselves. In the end, they found out that a lot of students would like a place to discuss their exchange experiences, such as a blog, a picture dairy, or a personal journal.
Outcome(s): Rather than just submitting photos or videos, there was a writing component added. The students had to include a blurb with their submissions or they could submit a writing piece of their experiences. In the end, the photos from the contest were phenomenal. From this, the team gained a user-centred experience – understanding what it means to step into the shoes of the users – an important element of design thinking.