Learning to innovate at Cornell Tech!


Salman Khan’s Academy is revolutionizing the way students learn with free online didactic videos available to learners worldwide. Salman Khan is a builder. Builders combine business, design, engineering, and interpersonal skills to create new products, services, and business models. Cornell Tech’s, Product Studio creates“builders”. For 14 weeks, we have the opportunity to learn and apply different tools and methodologies to develop and present new products, services, and strategies that respond to real business challenges.

Here is a quick summary of the key 5 steps we have done in our first 3 weeks:

First, select our challenge & find our squad

At the beginning of the semester, we chose between hundreds of challenges or “How might we’s?” posted by small businesses to enterprises with big picture technology challenges. One of the challenges I chose was: “How might we use Internet-enabled devices to better understand consumers and provide them with high-touch, personalized experiences across digital and in-store channels?” by Estee Lauder Companies. Then, the Dreamteam algorithm created cross-functional teams with guaranteed diversity in their backgrounds, skills, and knowledge. The result? My team, named elle-team, is made up of 5 students from different Masters programs, including a Parsons Student! (Connective Media, ORIE, Computer Science, MBA, Design&Technology).

elle-team”: Yanni, Yue, Siyu, Hiumin and Maria Luisa

Second, observe and visualize

We first tried to wrap our head around all facets of the problem by generating as many ideas as possible. We learned how to observe and visualize our user, where we used different methods like surveys, interviews, contextual inquiries, and mystery shopping. We rounded out our user research with online queries about beauty and personal care, internet-enabled devices, luxury brands, and wearables. We mapped our observations, created visualizations and were surprised by some of our findings, including:

  • Most users read but not write reviews, and they trust them!
  • Online and in-store channels have drastically different customer journeys
  • International consumers encounter language translations issues in store and get very confused

Third, Brainstorm — Divergence

After understanding the problem space, it was time for Sprint 1 : Brainstorming!

In 24 hours, we brainstormed using the 4 key principles for generating opportunities:

1. Diligent Application of Effort — in other words: give yourself time and space to brainstorm.

2. Generate do not Judge — ideate “without boundaries” and without criticism. The more ideas the better!

3. Use Patterns/Templates/Translation — Play with the ideas by shifting components around, asking if everything needs to be the way it is. What parts could you change with digital/modern technologies, etc.?

4. Hybrid Structures (Individual Work -> Team Work) — brainstorm by divergent and convergent thinking

We applied the divergence-convergence diamond model and altogether came up with over 50 ideas!

Fourth, Brainstorm — Convergence

We created several categories by grouping and merging some of the ideas. We found classes such as, building trust through online communities, reviewing reviews, connecting in-store experience, enhancing websites, smart mirrors, traveling experience….

Then we did dot-voting to rank our top 15 ideas. With those 15, we committed to developing a deeper understanding.

Fifth, present and get feedback

Finally, we focused in on our preferred 5 solutions by combining and trimming concepts from our list of 15. We presented these 5 solutions to obtain feedback from our classmates and Company Advisors and received feedback from all of them. During this journey, we have learned both the tools to become a world-class builder individually, but more importantly how to become a team of builders. Attacking a problem with diverse backgrounds and international perspectives boosts innovation and creativity in our solutions. We, the elle-team, are very excited to continue the product development journey to connect the online and offline worlds of Estee Lauder shoppers!

Looking forward to Sprint 2, where we will select, analyze and build an experimentation plan for our preferred solution.

elle-team with Simon Wallis from Estée Lauder Companies