Written by G. John Cole

The days when managers were expected to be, first and foremost, great analysts and strategists, are over. As a survey carried out by IBM shows, CEOs are looking for leaders who are collaborative, communicative, creative, and flexibleAll exciting words -- but what do they mean for business? Let’s take a closer look at this new work culture and the type of program that produces graduates with the ideal blend of business acumen and creativity.

The creative/business person dichotomy

Analysis provides a special kind of thrill for business-minded people. Spotting opportunities, strategizing approaches, and watching the results tick up can be fulfilling and lucrative. But often, the side effect of this kind of mindset is a form of tunnel vision. Quantifiable, results-driven leadership may pay off in the short term, but it can inhibit business leaders from seeing the bigger picture and developing new ideas

For creative people, the problem can be just the reverse. They have great ideas and may value the process just as much as the pay-off -- but this means they often lack the instinct to market or sell their work. They may, for example, try to cater to every possible audience when they would create better work and results if they target a specific market. Or they may create work that has no ‘legs’ because they haven't considered the market at all.

Imagine the power and leadership you could create if you combined the strengths of both types!

You Can Be a Creative Business Person!

Of course, nobody exists only on one end of the business-minded/creativity-minded spectrum -- if such a spectrum can even be said to exist. Rather, we each have our own talents, skills, and preferences that make us seem more disposed to one approach or the other. And those skills are more transferable than you might think.

Let’s reference Steve Jobs. The devices he created were unprecedented. But it was through making them user-friendly and developing a strong marketing identity that Apple became the phenomenon it is today.

Some would argue it has taken business a long time to catch up with that vision: to recognize that the entrepreneur spirit has a place within large companies. But actually, the creative process is very similar to the steps the business-minded take when developing new opportunities:

“Creative minds and enterprises often start off by gathering information about a problem,” says Lucas Miller, founder and CEO of Echelon Copy. “Then, they take time to digest the issue in its entirety. Once they grasp the idea fully, they often have a breakthrough and come up with a solution. Finally, they test their potential solution to see if it’s worth its salt.”

So it should be no surprise that modern businesses are looking for creative business people – those who can create products and successfully bring them to market. Indeed, a panel of business leaders, surveyed by the Design Management Institute, listed ‘Introduction to Product Design and Development’ at the top of their list of programs they would like potential company directors to have completed.

One course stands out, where you can learn all of this

Standard MBA coursework generally consists of 12 business-related classes. But business related classes only seem to take the student only ‘half-way’.  There are programs that attempt to marry the business side and the design/creative side, but they too are limited to the number of classes required for a master’s degree, thus limiting the broader knowledge base required.  

The Northwestern University Master of Product Design and Development Management (MPD) program seems to have found the solution and goes deeper by teaching the business MBA courses, in combination with an equal amount of design and development courses as half-credits. This combination supplies the thorough grounding that design and development enterprise leaders need.

Thus, the program offers “specific courses only used for THIS program,” says John Sidor, MPDD graduate and Director of Program Management Professional Development at Northrop Grumman, “and they are refined each year through the feedback of the students and the advisory board.”

That advisory board, on which Sidor sits, includes 15 senior professionals representing various fields in product design and development.

“This curriculum provides left brain/right brain thinking,” he says. “You learn a holistic approach to product development from ‘Voice of the Customer’ and needs assessments through the whole development lifecycle leading to the marketplace.”

“The passion and quality of the professors really stands out,” says Glenn MacBlane, Senior Director of R&D at SC Johnson, who obtained both his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Northwestern.  “The professors are highly active professionally and academically in their field of expertise.  They are respected individuals and create an interactive and engaging learning environment for the students.”

Many products have been conceived through the program, with some going on to marketplace success, just goes to show it’s an atmosphere that breeds creative entrepreneurs – just the type of leader that Senior Directors are hiring.

“I wish it had been an option when I enrolled in a traditional MBA program as I would have chosen MPD instead,” says Dianna Akin, Senior Director of R&D for Mars Wrigley Confectionery and advisory board member for MPDD. “The program is designed to provide exposure to the best of both worlds, in my opinion – offering a curriculum that gives the students ‘MBA-like’ courses as well as important experiential courses and team projects that will help them further/pursue leadership opportunities in product design and/or product development.”

Working closely with industry connections like these is ideal for those starting out, or for professionals looking to expand their skill set. It equips entrepreneurs to find inspiring work in leading businesses or – if the program is pursued part-time – to apply new knowledge to an existing role on a daily basis.

Amongst all the programs available, if you are looking to shed the feeling of being an uncreative businessperson or a guileless creative, there’s no better launch pad into today’s business world.

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