DMBA PROGRAM AT CALIFORNIA COLLEGE OF THE ARTS, 2010.

Why my MBA is from an art school

If b-school teaches the science of business, who teaches the art of business?

Previously as a young grasshopper, I learned alot about innovation, but very little about the how.

Adapted from original response to:
http://jules.dailygrommet.com/2011/06/26/design-school-vs-harvard-mba-which-is-harder/


The biggest differentiation design school has from business school is the ability to handle uncertainty. Business people are risk-adverse. If there’s risk, they tend to barrel through it with preexisting frameworks,models and prior known knowledge. Hence, the love of comps and benchmarking.

The missing link to innovation: divergence & blending it with convergence. Source: Roger Martin’s “Opposable Mind”.

While that’s fine, it’s premature when it comes to managing and leading a business into the future. The concept of “Design” (with a big ‘D’) is to explore outside of what’s known.

Trained as a management consultant and product manager, I’ve been fascinated with companies (like OXO, BMW, Apple and Eames) which have been able to create black magic and have found myself on a journey chasing this elusive concept of innovation for the past 6 years.

Unfortunately, reading about innovation from McKinsey, case studies from Harvard Business Review and even books from Tim Brown himself were all mere attempts at staring “through the looking glass.” All the books read — and even lectures attended — were effective as taking online art classes (of which I failed miserably trying to mix my paints). It was then I stubbornly realized it was just like learning classical piano (which I did for 15 straight years): hands-on required.

We often confuse “Design” with “design” (small ‘d’), which is more of the execution and implementation of “Design”.

Design” includes design thinking, design research, and design strategy — ethnographic observations/primary research (literally talking to the customers) and lots of ideation, prototyping, and iterative testing.

design” is really implementation/execution, focused on the actual development of a marketing collateral, brand identity/logo, or website.

Source: WSJ, et al.

There’s much argument for the necessity of both business and design. In essence, business is needed for viability (how do we sell it), engineering for viability (how do we make it work?), and design required for usability and desirability (how do we want make YOU want it?).

My main reason for skipping traditional b-school for the MBA in Design Strategy (dMBA) here at the California College of the Arts is literally to “think differently.”

I’ve shifted from hiding behind my desk and spreadsheets to balancing that out with speaking with the customer firsthand (via street intercepts, home observations, and in-depth interviews) and welding my pen and post-its for back-of-the envelope sketches and sticky-note ideation sessions.

Mix & Stir’s Unhackathon#1 SF Taxi & Communication Challenge @ CCA, Feb. 25, 2012

Through the DMBA program, I’ve learned to incorporate design thinking, ethnography, storytelling and sustainability. From that very first ethnography class where I learned to recognize the individual and not only his company to my sustainability studio where I explored compelling purchasing behaviors, I am excited to finally embrace a truly user-centric perspective on new challenges I face.

My favorite question to ask is no longer simply “why?”, but rather “how might we?”


All in all, if you mix design and business together, what you get is an agile startup mentality that is highly applicable to F500s as well. It’s not really rocket science per se, but it’s literally learning to connect the dots, something that requires stepping outside (going to the “gemba”),getting your hands dirty (prototyping), talking to people (ethno/observations).