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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Market conditions in industry and academia
  4. Discover
  5. Formulate
  6. Develop
  7. Optimize
  8. Conclusion

Philadelphia University wanted to create a new undergraduate college that would link programs in engineering, design, and business, offering younger students the kinds of collaborative experiences that are usually the province of graduate students. It was a huge initiative, and it required some careful strategic design.

Designing an innovation… or a college.

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YOU HAVE BEEN HANDED A STRATEGIC DIRECTIVE. NOW WHAT? In the following, we offer the example of the forming of the Maurice Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce (eventually abbreviated to DEC) at Philadelphia University to articulate a process for taking a strategic initiative and framing a vision to engage your talent to achieve the directive. The process followed a nonlinear, iterative sequence of four phases—discover, formulate, develop, and optimize—that create a framework for innovation (Figures 1 and 2).

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Figure 1. In this innovation process framework, the path from opportunity recognition to value creation includes periods of ambiguity with divergent and convergent perspectives in phases of discover and formulate. The opportunity becomes more explicitly understood in the phases of develop and optimize.(Framework co-created by Ellen di Resta.)

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Figure 2. Innovation process phases: Although depicted as a sequence of phases, the process is iterative and often requires divergence and backtracking to check assumptions before advancing to the next phase.

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Although this process uses the example of building an integrated college at a university, similar processes have been employed at both nonprofit and for-profit entities in start-up, turnaround, and growth settings. This is clearly a process for change applicable beyond the academy.

Market conditions in industry and academia

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Market conditions in industry and academia
  4. Discover
  5. Formulate
  6. Develop
  7. Optimize
  8. Conclusion

Career domains have begun to span greater professional breadths with increasingly transient boundaries. The term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), which originated in the military in the 1990s, became an emerging strategic concept. As a result, companies are increasingly looking for employees who are T-shaped thinkers—demonstrating skills that, while maintaining depth in an area of expertise, also include an understanding of the connections of their expertise with coordinating functions in the value chain or customer experience. The days of the career trajectory based exclusively on expertise in one discipline are over.

Most substantial collaborative courses and, in some cases, collaborative degree programs occur at the graduate level because many educators believe students must possess a strong disciplinary viewpoint before inter- or cross-disciplinary collaboration is possible.

This all suggested the need for an immediate transformative shift in professional education, which was part of the reasoning behind Philadelphia University's strategic planning process. The goal was to create an integrated undergraduate college that links programs in design, engineering, and business, and thereby formalize an education in innovation. Importantly, the focus was on rethinking content and pedagogy first rather than simply optimizing the delivery system.

By this time (2008), decades of opportunistic growth had left the university organized into six separate and, to some degree, disconnected schools. The new college—DEC—would integrate half the undergraduate enrollment (Figure 3, page 24). Now, it is not uncommon, when crafting a new directive from a strategic plan, to require a new organization structure to realize that directive most efficiently. However, we began by engaging the stakeholders in crafting the vision through the phases of discover and formulate. We planned to roll out the new organizational structure, with new leadership, for the value-creation phases of develop and optimize. Upon embarking on the ambiguous phase of discovery, we already understood that the notion intrigued some, scared others, and even angered a few. After all, no one really knew what the creation of “an integrated college focused on innovation” meant. People feared the closing of schools and programs, as well as the abolition of majors. While we did seek to build an integrated college of existing schools, we did not seek to close schools; both the School of Design and Engineering (SDE) and the School of Business Administration (SBA) remain, with dean-level leadership at each. No programs were eliminated, although some majors became concentrations. The vision of DEC was and is of an integrated college with a central five-part curriculum framework that is common to all students, so they can establish a consistent set of tools and capabilities and thus facilitate trans-disciplinary collaboration.

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Figure 3. Philadelphia University organizational structure 2008: The structure was one of six schools focused on silo program delivery. A new organizational structure and leadership team were needed to realize the strategic vision.

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So we had a big idea, ambiguity, a lot of confusion, and the prospect of considerable leadership changes. Where to begin?

Discover

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Market conditions in industry and academia
  4. Discover
  5. Formulate
  6. Develop
  7. Optimize
  8. Conclusion

If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. —Albert Einstein

As Einstein's summation suggests, to get different results you need different processes and approaches. The discovery phase begins with an assessment of where you are. In this assessment, understanding language differences, the range of expectations, your capability fits and gaps, and the various mental models for your stated objectives are all essential.

Using the framework from Figure 1 (page 23), we understood we needed to discover four key things:

  • 1) The various mental models and perspectives for the vision
  • 2) A common vocabulary
  • 3) Existing collaborative and interdisciplinary activities
  • 4) The broad capabilities and ecosystem of expertise within the 18 undergraduate programs and nearly 50 faculty members

From these perspectives, we needed to formulate a collective vision. This required navigating the ambiguity in the gaps and overlaps among disciplines and making those fits and gaps explicit in order to move the team from the opportunity-recognition phase—with a shared vision—into the value-creation phase.

DISCOVER: COMMON LANGUAGE, PERSPECTIVES, AND EXPECTATIONS

The first task was to understand the various perspectives, languages, and expectations of the faculty and staff. Second, we needed to learn from prior interdisciplinary courses and programs. We also had to consider market demands from current and prospective employers. Rather than limit ourselves to polling current employers, we sought guidance from influencers in the field, from innovation strategy consulting firms to business-model think tanks, to craft a curriculum that will train students for their first jobs but prepare them for their more advanced careers. This is how to begin with a 360-degree discovery view—assess your internal resources, understand your customers, and probe your market space to understand your future customers, as well as your competitors.

DISCOVER: MENTAL MODELS FOR THE STRATEGIC INITIATIVE

Creating a common model is the key goal of framing the vision for engagement, and one of the most valuable first steps. Deciphering the team members’ perception of the vision is key to motivating them toward a common vision. As depicted in Figure 4 (page 25), the strategic plan offered a Venn diagram that depicted three overlapping circles of design, engineering, and commerce with an arrow toward the center of concentrated overlap labeled Innovation. When probing for a deeper understanding of what that diagram meant through listening to the leadership and faculty, we found that what emerged were two different dominant views. Some perceived the integration of the three disciplines as the coordination of a value chain of delivery: design it (design); build it (engineering); and sell it (commerce). Similarly, in terms of discipline coordination, others saw the circles and overlaps as a visual representation of the time or mental space that would be dedicated to a certain level of discipline integration. They perceived a series of three discrete experiences in which one was the discipline skill acquisition in isolation, two was the collaboration of two disciplines learning the connective points among their functions, and three was where innovation happens as the trifecta comes together—presumably, in the later stages of the education, where synergy can be realized from acquired skills.

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Figure 4. In the discovery phase, two “mental models” for the integrated college emerged from the original Venn diagram. The value chain depiction indicated discipline coordination in value delivery. The depiction of collaboration levels was an operational view of the curriculum in terms of one-, two-, and three-discipline combined courses.

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DISCOVER: BELATED COLLABORATION

As with many professionally oriented schools, students at Philadelphia declare their major upon entry, which results in a directed, dedicated, and sometimes rigid focus on the major. Students often self-identify with their major even before the skill acquisition that constitutes such identity. This can result in discipline “clanning” and related us-versus-them views of collaboration. Upon review of years of collaborative courses at Philadelphia University, as well as other institutions, we discovered that most collaboration occurred in the junior and senior years, based on the assumption that interdisciplinary integration is more productive and meaningful when there is a disciplinary base and identity among the collaborators. However, the delay in beginning collaboration, coupled with the entrenchment in the major and solidification of discipline identity, results in gaps in language, understanding, and expectations that handicap the potential of the collaborative experience (Figure 5, page 26).

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Figure 5. Gap Effect of Belated Collaboration: Our research uncovered that most undergraduate collaborations occur too late in the progression of discipline specialization. This delay in collaboration results in gaps in language and understanding. This depiction also predicts and assumes a future in a professional silo.

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DISCOVER: KEY INSIGHTS

From conversations with the varied stakeholders, it became clear that the university, like many other professional education institutions, does an excellent job in training graduates for their first job, with outstanding discipline knowledge and skills required for the task and execution levels of employment. We discovered, however, that advancement beyond entry level does not depend on traditional discipline execution skills. We found that the gaps we saw in belated collaboration became pronounced in later stages of the career trajectory, where the ability to coordinate in tactical management and collaborate in strategic leadership are essential (Figure 6).

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Figure 6. Limits of silo career trajectory: Our research uncovered that traditional professional education is well-suited preparation for years 1–5 when the focus is on tasks and execution of discipline skills. Years 5–10 focus on tactical management and discipline coordination and years 10+ are about discipline integration and strategic leadership.

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Americans switch jobs on average every four years. Given our increasing life expectancy, a career could span 40 years or more, resulting in 10 or more jobs and perhaps half as many careers. We kept this top of mind with the directive: How do we prepare students now for jobs that may not exist today?

These are the key insights from the discover phase:

  • Collaboration occurs too late in the educational sequence.
  • The silo career professional trajectory is limited.
  • Skills for success in the future are in the gaps and overlaps.

The goal was to create an integrated undergraduate college that links programs in design, engineering, and business.

Formulate

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Market conditions in industry and academia
  4. Discover
  5. Formulate
  6. Develop
  7. Optimize
  8. Conclusion

Returning to the initial Venn diagram in Figure 8 (page 29), we embraced the notion that innovation is in the overlaps and in the translation of skills and portability of process and knowledge from one domain to another. A great historic example of this is Gutenberg's printing press, often recognized as the most important innovation of the modern period. Gutenberg's press was possible only through the integration of his professional knowledge of metals from silversmithing with his personal knowledge of the region in which he lived—wine country—from which he derived his understanding of the screw press used in winemaking. He was able to integrate movable metal type with a superior press, creating unprecedented liberation of knowledge.

We needed a new organizational structure, including systems within each college to enable continued strategic development and to facilitate collaboration. We focused the formulation stage on curricular development with three parallel efforts: faculty development charrettes; curricular outcome mapping; and network engagement. In other organizational settings, this is akin to off-site workshops, product and service mapping, and engaging your consulting network.

FORMULATE: TALENT ENGAGEMENT

We ran cross-disciplinary charrettes that brought a diverse spectrum of faculty together to explore discipline-complex challenges (healthcare and the aging, for instance). These charrettes required the faculty members to shed their protective sage-on-the-stage mode and dive into a wicked problem that required interdisciplinary collaboration. This is similar to fieldwork conducted by design or innovation strategy consultants, which often begins with exercises that ferret out language gaps and barriers and reframe the problem with a common understanding.

FORMULATE: PRODUCT MAPPING

We ran exercises to create integrated models based upon program outcomes. We mapped these connections to identify fits and gaps. For example, while a product design student is immersed in human factors and user-centric research, an engineering student can be learning on a parallel track about operator requirements of a system solution, and a marketing student can be learning about product perceptions and buyer behavior.

FORMULATE: ADVISOR NETWORK

The third formulation effort involved tapping our growing network of advisors. Over the course of developing DEC, we met with national and international experts on interdisciplinary education. We also conferred with the thought leaders behind such groundbreaking new programs as the MBA in design strategy from California College of the Arts and the MS in strategic design from Ontario College of Art and Design. Finally, we sought the counsel of a large network of innovation consultants, which offered its own insights.

KEY INSIGHTS FROM THE FORMULATE PHASE

At the culmination of our formulation phase, we identified four areas of focus to better build the skills of the future identified by our network of advisors. These became the areas of focus for the new curriculum:

  • Process. Shared processes for navigating uncertainty and probing ambiguity through tools for problem finding, framing, and propositional thinking
  • Value creation. Shared framework for understanding business models and functions
  • People. Shared tools for probing users, operators, and consumers to discover latent needs and desires, as well as the self-awareness to improve teamwork and collaboration
  • Systems. Shared tools to experiment with complexity and consequence

The formulation stage should end with an actionable, clear, descriptive directive. The statements should clearly state the goals in preparation for the development phase. It was now time to address Philadelphia University's organizational structure, which would clearly have to change in order to properly roll out the implementation and follow on strategic builds. The new structure would require new leadership and the addition of new team members to oversee development and optimization phases.

Develop

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Market conditions in industry and academia
  4. Discover
  5. Formulate
  6. Develop
  7. Optimize
  8. Conclusion

Moving from opportunity recognition to value creation requires substantial development lifts, notably around organizational structure, product development, and team creation.

DEVELOP: NEW ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

Leadership in the provost's and president's offices, where DEC was incubated, crafted an organizational structure for which we could seek new leadership at the dean and program director levels for implementation. It was clear that we needed to establish matrix management, as detailed in Figure 7, to allow focused expertise on these three core competencies of operational expertise to enable collaboration, academic/strategic planning, and advising/assessment. When you look at your own organizational structure, consider the goals of your activities, the core competencies of your team, and how they need to optimally interact to achieve your strategic direction.

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Figure 7. Now organized into three colleges from six schools, each integrated college includes three core competencies: Academic Strategy, Collaborative Operations, and Signature Learning Assessment. These three foci emerged from the needs discovered in the discover and formulate phases.

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Figure 8. DEC Venn Diagram—overlap focus: This depiction emphasizes focus on the overlaps and the design of the curriculum to maximize “skills of the future” in the overlaps.

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DEVELOP: PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

In academia, curriculum development is the process and student learning is the product. Through an examination of desired skills for the future, designed to address the gaps and capitalize on the overlaps, we crafted a four-course sequence designed to create synergies across the disciplines and create desirable, feasible, and valuable solutions (Figure 9).

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Figure 9. The DEC core curriculum is designed to focus on developing skills in opportunity recognition as well as problem finding and framing. The core curriculum emphasizes the discover and formulate phases in order to complement the develop- and optimize-rich curriculum in the professional education major.

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  • Integrated design process focuses on probing ambiguity, propositional thinking, and problem finding and framing, and introduces learning styles, teamwork, and collaboration.
  • Business model innovation introduces value creation using the business model canvas as a tool.
  • Ethnographic research methods are a deeper dive into understanding people and afford students further opportunity to consider their own assumptions, as well as their assumptions about the VUCA world in which they are proposing solutions.
  • Science system thinking considers issues of complexity and consequence and introduces students to systems thinking. (At this point in their professional majors, students have already worked on solutions to real-world problems; thus a focus on systems, consequence, and complexity is more useful.)

Eventually, advanced collaborative courses follow the four core courses and offer real-world challenges, including industry engagement. The integrated senior capstone is a writing- and research-intensive course combined with a semester-long thesis project in the professional major.

We found that the gaps we saw in belated collaboration became pronounced in later stages of the career trajectory.

DEVELOP: LEARNING LAUNCHES

Given the scope of this effort in reorganizing half the university in less than three years, there were only a handful of opportunities to test pilot curriculum or learning modules. We formalized some of our network of advisors into DEC Fellows, and they provided custom workshops for faculty development and tested learning modules with highly engaged honor students for maximum feedback.

DEVELOP: PRODUCT AND PROCESS DEVELOPMENT TEAMS

During this phase, we also created a number of working groups of interdisciplinary faculty teams focused on core issues, such as curriculum development, core curriculum integration, facilitating collaboration, and industry engagement. All DEC core curriculum courses are team-taught by faculty members from two different backgrounds or specializations. This team teaching style afforded two different views on course development, subject matter, and relevant connections back to the professional majors.

In your company, an innovation might have been discovered and formulated by a consulting firm or brought into the company through an acquisition or a merger. Be that as it may, it needs to be integrated into the core operations of the business, to be developed, optimized, and essentially monetized with dedicated advocates for the overall brand experience.

KEY INSIGHTS FROM THE DEVELOPMENT PHASE

  • Identify the core competencies of your organization essential to your innovation effort.
  • Review your organizational structure to make sure you are leveraging those core competencies with a focus on knowledge sharing across the entity.
  • Craft multidisciplinary development teams to carry the insights key to your innovation from the phases of discover and formulate through realization (optimization).
  • Create brand advocates to disseminate your messaging.

Optimize

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Market conditions in industry and academia
  4. Discover
  5. Formulate
  6. Develop
  7. Optimize
  8. Conclusion

In most organizations, the movement into optimization focuses on maximizing profitability and minimizing risk. In an academic organization, the optimization phase often scales a course or courses, or broadens the scope of the potential audience. In our case, we sought to embed methods for enabling collaboration into operations and methods of streamlining our learning and faculty-talent development processes while maximizing our branding efforts to increase the national reputation of the university.

OPTIMIZE: EMBED INNOVATION RESPONSIBILITY IN OPERATIONS

Given the new organizational structure and the creation of a new leadership level with executive deans and new positions in operations management, it was time to hand DEC over to the academic leadership to execute, optimize, and iterate. The new organizational structure and new talent assembled to realize DEC were charged with further course development, curriculum deployment, assessment and iteration, new program planning, and overall academic growth.

OPTIMIZE: BRAND AND CAPITAL INVESTMENT

Running alongside this effort, the university rebranded itself with new brand stories, marketing plans, logos, website, social media strategy, and overall recruitment strategy to realize the investment in making DEC a unique value proposition. The university also embarked on the largest capital campaign in its 127-year history and, as a result of DEC, secured the largest single donation to name the new college after alumnus Maurice Kanbar.

OPTIMIZE: STREAMLINE DEVELOPMENT AND DELIVERY

The new leadership team is in the process of crafting long-term processes for continued academic planning, curricular development, curriculum and learning assessment, and optimizing delivery—all leveraging the matrix management organizational structure. The university has undergone extensive analytics assessment, optimized class section sizes and teaching loads, and partnered with outside technology partners for launching key programs online to reach a broader audience and extend the brand.

At this point in the development, the optimization is under way. Two of the four courses in the core curriculum have launched, and the first DEC class will graduate in 2015.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Market conditions in industry and academia
  4. Discover
  5. Formulate
  6. Develop
  7. Optimize
  8. Conclusion

These are the most important things we learned:

  • Understand the various historical and new vision perspectives early in the discovery phase, and share your understandings verbally and visually to engage your stakeholders. This can be helpful to correct your own assumptions about the enterprise and the teams.
  • Borrow language from the various stakeholders and employ that language in early formulation efforts to engage participants and bridge gaps.
  • Make experiences tangible as often as possible, especially when you are formulating a proposed hypothesis, so that your stakeholders can experience the suggested future. Prototype your products, experiences, systems, and solutions.
  • Use the phases of discover and formulate to tease out your true core competencies and check those focuses against your organizational structure. The organizational structure should enable innovation. Most organizational structures were crafted for prior offerings and are designed to optimize legacy products and services. Unfortunately, those structures often protect hierarchy and prohibit collaboration.
  • Engage a large network of external thought leaders to offer perspectives from your own market, your potential market, your competitors, and your collaborators. These perspectives are key to developing your internal team.
  • Use learning launches whenever possible to test pilot products, services, or business models with users/consumers for quick feedback and co-creation.
  • Create consistency through the phases by maintaining common team members when possible, with clear actionable mandates and metrics.

About the Book:

Spinelli and McGowan integrate a broad network of international leaders on innovation to demonstrate the tight linkages between innovation and opportunity recognition. The team covers every facet of innovation, including design processes, team development, ethnography, audits and charrettes, opportunity shaping and assessment, business models, value delivery, systems thinking, and more. Disrupt Together introduces a breakthrough trans-disciplinary, team-based approach to innovation that integrates business, design, and engineering, and can deliver powerful results for both new ventures and existing companies with case study examples from education, healthcare, branding, and consumer product and service design. Contributors and interviews come from Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, Continuum Innovation, Jump Associates, University of Pennsylvania, Becton Dickinson, Sapient Nitro, Ontario College of Art and Design, Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT Media Lab, Smart Design, and more. Foreword by Steve Blank.

From Disrupt Together: How Teams Consistently Innovate Edited by Steve Spinelli, Jr. PhD and Heather McGowan