Developing Mindsets for Innovative Problem Solving - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Developing Mindsets for Innovative Problem Solving

Course Number 1344

Professor Srikant M. Datar
Fall, Q1Q2, 3 credits
11 2.5-hour sessions
Course Meetings: Monday 3:30pm to 6pm other than HBS and University holidays

Introductory Session: There will be an information session Wednesday, September 5 from 4:15 to 5:15pm at the i-lab (classroom 122). All other sessions will be on Mondays from 3:30 to 6:00pm.


The capacity to innovate has become a critical skill for the 21st century business person and entrepreneur operating in an ever more complicated and fast changing world. Innovative problem solving are a range of techniques to break fixed ways of thinking and facilitate innovative thinking. In this course, we will develop a number of these techniques that can be applied to problem situations. Each time you want to face a problem innovatively, you can use these new ways of thinking to come up with different potential solutions. Our goal is to increase your capacity to think in novel and different ways.

 This course will be offered at the i-lab in Fall 2018 with weekly meetings. The learning in this course will occur through:

  • A mix of individual and group activities in class.
  • Ungraded prep work for in class activities.
  • Two to three submitted assignments.
  • Students can pursue a final project in lieu of a final exam.

In past years, some students, who have developed a concept during the course, continued that work as an Independent Project (IP) in the Winter Term.

Innovative Problem Solving and Design Thinking

The surprising insight from recent research is that there is a body of knowledge and systematic techniques that individuals can use to think creatively. The course focuses on helping students learn and practice these techniques.

A solution to a problem is only interesting if it is useful in addressing a customer need. So the course will also incorporate some of the methods of design thinking through developing techniques for understanding customers, gaining insights, and framing problems, and prototyping solutions.

Innovative problem solving can be applied to processes, business models, management, and strategy. The creative thinking skills can complement the analytical and written communication skills that are generally far more developed in students of business, medicine, government, education etc.

Course Content & Organization

Programmed course sessions will lead students through the major phases of the innovative problem solving process, as supplemented by the mindset and research methods of creative thinking. Our goal is to teach a wide variety of techniques that help students think differently and innovatively.

Module 1: An Introduction to the Innovation Process
This module defines creativity and its role in innovation and provides an overview of the innovation process. It provides a foundation and structure 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 a human-centered innovation process. 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 students learn to identify problem frames using tools like webbing, abstract ladders, and strategy frameworks. Informed by insights developed during efforts toward Deep Customer Understanding, problem frames open up new paths for thinking, help to redefine problems, and indicate areas of opportunity.

Module 4: Idea Generation
In this module the course explores various approaches to innovative thinking and techniques for idea generation from a range of sources. It covers the tools of Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) such as task unification, multiplication, division, attribute dependency and inversion. SIT is a rigorous approach to problem solving that evolved from the TRIZ engineering tradition. This module also explores other methods of structured ideation, such as Alternate Worlds, Nominal Group Technique, Round Robin, and Creative Matrix.

Module 5: Concept Development
This module first focuses on the critical role that prototyping, experimenting, and iteration play in the development of ideas. Failed experiments can be a rich source of learning that often reveal new options and nearly always lead to a better final outcome. Methods of prototyping include wire-framing, body storming, think-aloud testing, and simulation. The module also explores a variety of other concept development tools, such as attribute-value mapping, design heuristics, concept poster, rose-thorn-bud, and critique.

Module 6: Implementation
Until an idea is implemented, it remains just that-an idea. This module focuses on the challenges of implementing innovation such as relative advantage, trialability, complexity and compatibility. It then introduces tools and approaches of communication and behavior change, such as creating curiosity, developing options, and psychological comfort. Students learn to think 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?” The module explores teams, cultures and individual mindsets that are critical for successful innovation, using approaches such as the Elephant and Rider and Foursight models.


 Who is eligible?

This course will be open to 60 students from across Harvard University and its graduate schools, as well as Tufts and MIT. Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors from the College are also welcome. The course will also accept a limited number of Advanced Leadership Institute Fellows.


How to enroll?
HBS - Select this course as part of the regular lottery process.
Cross-Registrants & ALI Auditors: Email your C.V. to

Please direct any questions to Caitlin Bowler (Research Associate) and Paige Burk (Faculty Support Specialist).
Caitlin Bowler: Paige Burk: