The Talent Hunt

Desperate to innovate, companies are turning to design schools for nimble, creative thinkers

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Tech geeks love Mozilla's Firefox browser, which is impervious to most viruses, but mainstream America has yet to embrace it. How does Mozilla move beyond invention (cool browser, neat functions) to an innovation that translates into market success (a Net tool so hot it upends Microsoft's Corp.'s (MSFT ) Explorer)? It's a perfect problem for a classroom case study. So last spring, Mozilla's business development team turned to Stanford University. But instead of going to the business school, they headed for the double-wide trailer that housed Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, dubbed the "D-school" on campus. The course was team-taught by Stanford profs and industry professionals. Each student worked in a team that included a B-schooler, a computer science major, and a product designer. And each team used design thinking to shape a business plan for Mozilla.

It made a big difference. A B-school class would have started with a focus on market size and used financial analysis to understand it. This D-school class began with consumers and used ethnography, the latest management tool, to learn about them. Business school students would have developed a single new product to sell. The D-schoolers aimed at creating a prototype with possible features that might appeal to consumers. B-school students would have stopped when they completed the first good product idea. The D-schoolers went back again and again to come up with a panoply of possible winners.


One idea was, a social networking site where users submit photographs and vote on the quality of friends' photos. The catch: You have to download Firefox to vote. So far, 30% of the site's visitors have done so. Among marketers, that's huge.

The power of this new approach, called design thinking, to promote innovation and open up business opportunities is attracting the attention of corporations around the globe. Design has evolved from a narrow discipline dealing with the form and function of products into a major new approach to developing business models.

As business increasingly turns to India and China to provide low-cost, high-quality goods and services, companies have to focus on innovation to be competitive. That driving need makes design thinking the hottest trend in business culture today. If engineering, control, and technology were once the central tenets of business culture, then anthropology, creativity, and an obsession with consumers' unmet needs will inform the future.

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This change in focus is leading to a huge corporate talent hunt. To make their business culture more innovative, managers are hiring thousands of new people who can think and act more creatively. More and more, recruiters ask if people with a degree in "administration" are up to the task.

That's why such corporations such as Nike (NKE ), General Electric, (GE ) McDonald's (MCD ), Intel (INTC ), and many others are looking beyond traditional sources of leadership to a new set of schools and programs to find innovative managers. And that's why Stanford's D-school has earned a place on our inaugural list of Top D-schools, the first-ever survey of design schools and design programs in the U.S., Europe, and Asia that are graduating the innovators companies hunger for. These are the schools that "move away from analyzing existing options and look to the creation of new options that have not yet been considered," explains Roger Martin. He's dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, a leading school in design thinking.

We are also presenting individual stories of success in this talent hunt. These include a graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology's (IIT) Institute of Design in Chicago who is working as senior director of innovation advanced concepts at McDonald's Corp. A graduate from Carnegie Mellon University is a design researcher at the Mayo Clinic's SPARC Innovation Program. A graduate of INSEAD's product development course with Art Center College of Design students is a member of GE's Experienced Commercial Leadership Program. Northwestern and Germany's Zollverein School of Management & Design grads are leading marketing teams at Johnson & Johnson (JNJ ) and H.P. Pelzer Group. A grad from Massachusetts College of Art is the director of global design resources for the Gillette Co. (PG ) worldwide.


What characterizes the best D-schools and design programs? First, they are multidisciplinary. They combine engineering, business, design, and social sciences. They team-teach using groups of professors and outside professionals. And they teach students who are organized in groups to operate as teams.

Second, they can be found in both D-schools and B-schools, plus the growing number of joint ventures between the two. B-schools are adding design course tracks. Engineering schools are opening innovation centers. Classical design schools are adding business components.

Third, D-school grads are special. Call them hybrids or polymaths, they are people with both extraordinary depth in a field and the breadth of knowledge to apply it. "A lot of companies have multidisciplinary teams -- marketing people, engineers, designers, strategists. But having all those parts embedded in one person's brain -- that really puts you over the edge in terms of being able to innovate," says Colleen Murray, an IIT Institute of Design graduate at innovation strategy firm Jump Associates.

To gather our list, we created a 24-person advisory board. They include people from corporations such as Whirlpool, (WHR ) Siemens (SI ), and BMW who hire the new design thinking talent; faculty at both D-schools and B-schools such as Art Center, IIT, Northwestern, and Stanford; recruiters such as RitaSue Siegel; and design and innovation consultants such as Yves Béhar at fuseproject and Tamara Giltsoff at London-based Live/Work. They recommended programs from which they hire and where they referred students. We then conducted 200-plus interviews to narrow our picks to the best 60 global programs.

Our list is eclectic. It includes IIT's Institute of Design, a pioneer in fusing design and business. Its graduates have gone on to jobs in strategy and marketing in Microsoft, Condé Nast Publications, Google, (PG )and Motorola (MOT ). IIT began awarding dual MBA and master of design degrees in 2006.


Forward-thinking business schools on the list, such as Rotman and the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, have coursework championed by leading design thinkers such as Roger Martin and Jeneanne Rae. In fact, Martin, IIT's Patrick Whitney, and David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO and Stanford's D-school, have joined together on a project with Claudia Kotchka, the innovation champion for Procter & Gamble Co. (PG ) The four created a three-day program teaching design thinking's three components to the hairstyling products group: deep consumer understanding, the ability to test product variations rapidly, and business strategy formulation. This research laid the groundwork for executive workshops, a summer academy, and a new design elective at Rotman this fall.

Partnerships between D-schools and B-schools are becoming increasingly common. In 2006, for example, France's INSEAD and Art Center in Pasadena, Calif., embarked on a partnership that brings design students to Fontaine-bleau, just south of Paris, for a product development class. Students worked in teams to pitch and develop business ideas. The class is oversubscribed, and INSEAD will soon launch the partnership in Singapore.

Much of the impetus to work across disciplines comes directly from businesses. GE Healthcare is currently sponsoring a class at Art Center to develop inexpensive mobile diagnostic imaging devices for India, Africa, and China. Eastman Kodak Co. (EK ) has gone to Georgia Tech to match industrial designers with students of management and human-computer interaction for projects that focus on photography. Why? Because that's how corporate teams innovate. Sponsoring such a project lets the company motivate students to think in this way and gives it a head start in snapping up tomorrow's superstars.


Intel Corp. (INTC ) IS spending $30,000 on student teams at Arizona State's InnovationSpace program, uniting undergraduates from B-school, engineering, and industrial and visual communication design programs to work on new products for aging baby boomers' future homes. The students will spend time hanging out with elderly folks as they cook, sink into living room lounge chairs, and brush their teeth. They'll develop prototypes for new products and related services. And they'll have their subjects try them out, fixing and adjusting quickly to hit a perfect formula. By year's end, each team will develop a proposal for a new business venture. Professors from all four disciplines will teach the class, which is led by noted design professor Prasad Boradkar.

Intel is making big financial bets that design school programs like those at ASU, Carnegie Mellon, and Georgia Tech will provide fresh ideas. Intel made its name as an engineering company in high tech, says Jay Lundell, Intel's director of user experience design in health research innovations. But, he adds, "there's an increasing realization that to be successful as a technology company, you need the people who can do that translation from engineering to users' needs and back again."

BusinessWeek's Top D-schools include European and Asian programs as well. British corporations are leaders in using design thinking, and they hire graduates from the Royal College of Art and Northumbria University Design School. The new Zollverein School of Management & Design in Essen, which opened its doors to executive students in 2005 and full-time students in 2006, is the buzz of the Continent. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has listed innovation as a national five-year priority and is putting up $15 billion to promote it. There are some 400 design schools in China graduating thousands of students. Most focus on traditional industrial and graphic design, but a few, such as Tsinghua University in Beijing, are starting to teach design thinking. And in Korea, D-school students are partnering with their U.S. counterparts.

D-schools are racing to meet the demand for new innovative talent. Some are doing a good job. Others are not. We ask corporate recruiters, students, and others to report back to us.

Design schools seek "new opportunities that have not yet been considered"

Corrections and Clarifications In "The talent hunt" (Special Report, Oct. 9), Massachusetts Institute of Technology's B-school was listed as Sloan School of Business in Boston. It should be MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Mass.

By Jessi Hempel and Aili McConnon

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