Design Thinking and Innovation - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Design Thinking and Innovation

Course Number 1344

Professor Srikant M. Datar
Professor Rajiv Lal
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
Classes will be held at Harvard Innovation Lab - Batten 122
25 sessions

Educational Objectives

This course is a prerequisite for enrollment in i-Lab Design Thinking Project (6085) in January to earn 1.5 credits in Winter 2015.

Career Focus

"Innovation & Design Thinking" will allow students to develop basic skills in creative problem solving, innovation, and human-centered "design thinking." Innovation has become increasingly important because of the rapid evolution in products and business models and the ever more complicated world in which businesses and organizations operate. The course focuses on the manager's or leader's role as an innovator and facilitator of innovation by others.

Educational Objectives

The primary objective of the course is to help students develop creative thinking skills-key to innovation. These include the ability to gain deep insights about users (the core of design thinking), to define and reframe problems, and to generate solutions or alternative approaches that are more effective than those that already exist. As Richard J. Boland and Fred Collopy write:

What is needed in management practice and education today is the development of a design attitude. ...The decision attitude assumes it is easy to come up with alternatives to consider, but difficult to choose among them. ...The design attitude…is concerned with finding the best answer possible, given the skills, time, and resources of the team, and takes for granted that it will require the invention of new alternatives (Boland & Collopy).

As future managers, these skills also include the ability to identify innovative individuals, form innovative teams, and build innovative cultures within organizations. The course takes the view that innovative problem solving and design thinking can be learned through repeated practice. Students will engage in exercises, projects, and reflections to explore various methods and approaches to innovative problem solving and design thinking. The course will introduce a variety of tools and techniques (“props”) that, with repeated use, will help students think more expansively, creatively, and effectively through all phases of an innovation project.

Note: Boland, R. J., & Collopy, F. (2004). Design Matters for Management. In R.J. Boland & F. Collopy (Eds.), Managing as Designing (3-18). Palo Alto: Stanford Business Books.

Course Content and Organization

The course will lead students through the major phases of the creative problem solving process, as supplemented by the mindset and research methods of design thinking. Leaders from top innovation and design firms will collaborate with Professor Datar on several sessions throughout the semester. (Firms will likely include Continuum, Frog Design, IDEO, LUMA Institute, and SIT.)

Module 1: An Introduction to the Innovation Process

This module will define creativity and its role in innovation, provide an overview of the innovation process, and discuss the individual affective characteristics that are critical for successful innovation. It will provide a foundation for all the subsequent modules in the course.

Module 2: Human-Centered Design & Achieving Deep Customer Understanding

The ability to identify and understand what customers need and want in a product, service, or process-based on observation, not data alone-is at the core of design thinking. Students will learn to develop an actionable point of view that addresses questions such as: Who are the target users? What do they need? How do you know? Students will practice several techniques for achieving deep customer understanding, both in and outside of the classroom, and will then synthesize research findings in an effort to hone in on key insights.

Module 3: Identifying Opportunity Areas: Problem Framing & Definition

Framing-a powerful cognitive mechanism that allows us all efficient functioning in everyday life-is a significant barrier to innovation. In this module we will explore what frames are and discuss some of the cognitive biases that contribute to their power. We will learn ways to identify problem frames and, informed by insights developed during efforts toward Deep Customer Understanding, reshape problem frames to open up new paths for thinking, redefine problems, and identify areas of opportunity.

Module 4: Idea Generation

In this module we will explore various approaches to innovative thinking and techniques for idea generation from a range of sources. In addition to Nominal Group Technique, Round Robin, and Creative Matrix, we will cover the Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) approach and its tools. (SIT is a rigorous approach to problem solving that evolved from the TRIZ engineering tradition.)

Module 5: Concept Development

This module will focus on the critical role that prototyping, experimenting, and iteration play in the development of ideas. From the designer's perspective, failure - when designed to occur early and cheaply - can be a rich source of learning that often reveals new options and nearly always leads to a better final outcome. A wide variety of tools will be introduced in this module.

Module 6: Implementation

Until an idea is implemented, it remains just that-an idea. This module will focus on tools and approaches for thinking creatively (and strategically) about implementing ideas and bringing innovative ideas to the marketplace.

Module 7: Managing Innovation

This module addresses the question: "What does it mean to manage innovation?"

Grading and Requirements

Students will be graded on the basis of their class participation, class exercises, reflection papers and a project.


HBS 1344 is open to all graduate students. Complete the cross-registration process as described at the HBS Cross-Registration page. Also, please send a C.V. and brief paragraph describing your interest in the course to Caitlin Bowler, Research Associate (