Feb. 28, 2019Print | PDF
For its inaugural residency week in the Silicon Valley, the Executive Masters in Technology Management (EMTM) program had no shortage activities, lessons and adventures to keep the class of 2019 busy. From February 17 to 21, EMTM learners were immersed in one of the world’s most innovative and forward-looking tech environments – Silicon Valley, California.
From their home base in Berkeley, California, the cohort explored the three pillars of the EMTM program in ways that regular classroom learning can’t provide. Innovation management, data literacy and design thinking were on full display throughout the week they spent at UC Berkeley, Stanford University’s d.school, Google, Ford’s Greenfield Labs and Autodesk.
“This residency is just one of the many features that makes this program unique in Canada,” says the EMTM program’s Executive Director, Hamid Noori. “Our goal is to provide learners with the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in a completely new environment while also expanding their understanding of how to incorporate design thinking, data management and innovation into their careers.”
The first day of the residency introduced the EMTM cohort to Prof. Sara Beckman, one of the world’s leading authorities on design thinking based at the University of California at Berkeley. She routinely advises some of the world’s largest tech firms and most promising start-ups on using design thinking to drive innovation.
“With design thinking, the goal is to de-mystify the different frameworks to understand how social and business processes interact,” says Beckman who added that the point of design thinking is not meant to simply solve the problem, but to define it.
EMTM learner, Adam Davies quickly understood the importance of applying design thinking properly. “It’s not easy to frame the problem statement and can be defeating sometimes if you do it wrong and end up solving the wrong problem – that’s why it’s critical to be able to choose the right framework.”
After class at Berkeley, the cohort left to apply what they learned while riding and observing the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. Beckman says the objective of this experience was “to start looking at how processes converge to create systems that force people to interact under a common goal.”
The second day of the residency sent the EMTM cohort to Palo Alto, first to take a class in capturing design insights with Michael Barry of the Stanford d. school before seeing how those kinds of insights are utilized at Ford’s Greenfield Labs and at Google.
The lesson with Prof. Barry had the learners dive deep into the question, are insights more valuable than solutions? To find an answer, teams workshopped ways to capture insights from data as a way to establish need-finding – the process of protecting against unintended consequences in decision making.
“Everyone wants to be innovative – but what does that mean? To us, innovation is the creation of something new and because all learning is new, innovation becomes a function of learning new ways to learn, says Barry.”
After class, the cohort enjoyed a tour of the Stanford d. school. A building dedicated to cultivating the innovative ideas, products and processes of Stanford graduate students from every faculty.
EMTM learner, Aman Mander says she appreciates how the lessons connected with real-world examples of the workshops. “I’m excited to bring back new learnings about cognitive diversity across a number of disciplines. For both humans and robotics, design thinking involves framing and re-framing the challenges until they are unpacked from a customer’s perspective.”
Once their time at Stanford ended, the cohort was off to visit the Greenfield Laboratories of Ford Motor Company. Seeing the tremendous success that start-ups have had over the last three decades, larger companies like Ford began establishing their own start-up labs to generate and test new concepts and products.
Joe Fodera, Research Operations Manager at Ford-IDEO shared some of the opportunities and challenges currently facing the auto industry. “We have teams dedicated to identifying concepts and finding solutions to problems we’re anticipating three, five, 10 and 15 years out.”
After the tour at Ford, it was off to visit one of the most established centres of innovation and data management in the world – Google. Upon arriving at the sprawling Google campus in Palo Alto, the cohort was greeted by Manuel Bronstein, VP Product for Google Assistant who shared his history of leading tech-focused teams at Microsoft, YouTube and Google.
“The fireside chat with Manuel was impressive,” says EMTM learner Alex Drolc. He shared great stories and insight into the kind of work he does and was a great ambassador for Google.”
The third day of the residency was perhaps the most challenging, culminating the ideas captured from previous days and applying them to the particular business problems of the EMTM learners.
Prof. Beckman challenged the class to find the difference between use and usability by describing the functional needs of their customer’s user journey.
“From all these frameworks we’ve covered, you can build canvasses on which to outline the past, present and future state of your organizations. From there, you will be able to answer the following questions – what value is my organization creating? How is my organization creating value? How is my organization delivering value? And How is my organization capturing value?”
Once the class was able to build their canvasses, they travelled to Autodesk, an innovation incubator where interactive design, data management and strategy converge to solve the real-world challenges faced by the construction, manufacturing and entertainment industries. The leaders of Autodesk are sure that these industries will only move humans and machines closer together and design thinking will be a big part of ensuring those mergers are positive.
After the fascinating tour of the kinds of projects Autodesk is working on, the cohort sat down with Jon Pitman, VP Corporate Strategy of Autodesk who spoke about the need to reduce material use across all industries.
“Less is more because more is inevitable,” says Pitman. “By 2050, the Earth’s population will be about 10 billion but as 400,000 people join the global middle class every day, we will need enough resources to meet the needs of 70 billion people. Obviously, this isn’t possible so this is where design is able to marry strategy and foresight to solve problems before they happen.”
EMTM guest and future learner, Candice Faul was struck by how relevant Autodesk’s focus was on solving current and future problems. “The highlight for me was definitely their work on innovating housing – solving the homelessness problem is critical and it’s great to see technology being leveraged as part of the solution.”
The final day of the residency focused on the importance of storytelling in distilling your corporate message to it purest form. No longer just the purview of marketers and communicators, storytelling is a key part in designing solutions because that is how you know if you’re connecting with consumers and users.
Guest lecturer and Executive-in-Residence, David Reimer led the discussion and says, “If a user-centric business model is going to be successful, it has to be built on a compelling story. Storytelling connects everyone to a common idea and goal no matter how abstract.”
Reimer gave the example of PIXAR, a film production company that takes about five years to make a 90-minute movie. “These days, with current tools, the animation only takes a year – the other four years are spent storyboarding and refinement until it creates the strongest emotional connection. That’s what you need to do in your companies – make sure you connect.”
“Storytelling for innovation was a great interactive session that was really a highlight for me,” says EMTM learner Sanjeev Arora. “The idea of bringing storytelling to product innovation was a real eye-opener.”
The Silicon Valley residency will not soon be forgotten by the 2019 cohort. While its content and site visits will continue to be refined, its objective of showing learners the power they can harness through innovation management, data literacy and design thinking will always be the core lesson.
EMTM learner, Abed Hussein sums up his experience this way, “This residency changed the way I think. It’s empowering and deeply satisfying to be able to tackle new challenges now that I’m better equipped with new techniques for generating innovative ideas, designing insights and fostering effective communications.”
To learn how you can join the next Silicon Valley residency as a member of the EMTM program, contact Jenny Adamthwaite.