MBA Internships: Design Thinking in Practice at IDEO

Sandeep Pahuja, MBA 15, is interning with global design consultancy IDEO in San Francisco. Here’s an account—in his own words—of his experiences as a business designer in the Food Studio.

Man on the street: Sandeep conducts ethnographic research for a consumer packaged goods IDEO client.

Man on the street: Sandeep conducts ethnographic research for a consumer packaged goods IDEO client.

Student: Sandeep Pahuja, Full-Time MBA 15

IDEO because: During Orientation Week (exactly one year ago!), IDEO Partner and Berkeley MBA 83 Alumnus Tom Kelley spoke about IDEO and design thinking. I had certainly heard of IDEO, but this was the first time I heard someone really explain the company in detail. It immediately became my dream internship. I sought out the role of business designer because it is the perfect blend of creativity and strategy.

Excited about: IDEO’s human-centered design approach starts with understanding user needs by talking with and watching users in context. I was thrilled to do ethnographic research this summer and engage with potential users directly.

For one of my projects, we worked with a large consumer packaged goods (CPG) company to help them enter a new category by creating a new brand and products. We made numerous prototypes to take out in the field and show to people. We were able to talk to more than 140 people in a few days about the brand and prototypes we were working on.

It was incredible to get feedback from that many people so quickly—it forced us to rethink some assumptions. It was an unbelievable learning experience that informed how we proceeded.

A highlight: The magic of IDEO comes from interdisciplinary teams. One of my teams included industrial product designers, graphic designers, a writer, a food scientist, an anthropologist, a former brand manager, a former Google product manager, and me. When you put together a team like that, you have everyone looking at problems from a different angle, and generating totally different ideas about how to attack them. It creates an incredibly rich environment that is very exciting.

Being surrounded by smart and talented people every day has been amazing, and getting to dive deep on problems with smaller teams has been enlightening.

Inside IDEO: The culture at IDEO is weird in the best way possible. Like Haas, IDEO has its own core values: be optimistic, collaborate, embrace ambiguity, learn from failure, make others successful, take ownership, and talk less/do more. Taken together it’s creative, informal, fun, serious (in project spaces), transparent, random, and rebellious. IDEOers are constantly sharing, learning, and doing.

Every day we get at least one company-wide email from an IDEOer is seeking inspiration for a project, and the whole company gets many thoughtful responses. We have Google groups where people post links to the things they believe are worth sharing. IDEOers take it upon themselves to help others learn new skills. This summer, we’ve had IDEOers from our China and Japan offices come in to share not only their amazing work but also what they’ve been challenged by in their countries. I love that people are always willing to help out, coach, and teach.

Design humor

Design humor

One example of random fun at the office: one of our bathrooms has a chalkboard wall that has different questions on it. Right now the question is “what do you collect?” In true IDEO fashion, there are many different answers on Post-it notes, but my favorite has to be the hilarious collection of corny jokes. It’s the little, random things like this that really add to the IDEO culture.

Haas skills applied: Most new problems we face are different from the last ones, and they challenge us to look for different angles. Design thinking enable teams to turn big, unwieldy problems into digestible chunks. Thankfully, Haas teaches design thinking in the core program with Problem Finding, Problem Solving, so I was able to start my internship already having been through parts of the process.

Advancing career goals by: My #1 goal a year ago was to work at IDEO and really get into the design-thinking process. I’ve been lucky enough to have an incredible experience at IDEO this summer that has let me do both. Coming back to Haas, I plan on taking as many opportunities as possible to practice design thinking and to keep developing my skills.


Designing Women: Leadership Conference [re]Frames the Conversation

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This year Berkeley MBA students brought the design-thinking skills they gained at Haas to hundreds of women from around the Bay Area who attended the annual Women in Leadership Conference. We interviewed Stephanie Curran, MBA 14, who co-chaired the conference with Lauren Fernandez, also MBA 14, about how they came up with the conference’s theme, “Design Your Future,” and their decision to focus on design thinking as they planned the conference.

What has been your experience with design thinking at Haas, and why you were inspired to share that through the conference theme?

I was first introduced to design thinking at a case competition shortly after I started school. We used “divergent” thinking to brainstorm the feelings one has when buying cell phones, which led us to create a story around the anxiety our proposed consumer segment goes through when purchasing a new cell phone for themselves and their family members. The Haas team was the only team that took this emotional approach, and the judges were incredibly impressed by our depth of consumer insight, ultimately declaring us winners of the competition. Soon after, I took the core MBA class Problem Finding, Problem Solving, where design-thinking tools were further explored and I was able to expand on my previous experience.

After that, I was sold on the power of design thinking and  began to apply it to projects I worked on for Berkeley Board Fellows, IBD, and elsewhere, always with success.

How did you end up applying design thinking to planning the Women in Leadership Conference?

Lauren and I actually used this diverging brainstorming activity as we were trying to come up with themes for the WIL Conference. We highlighted six topics that were trending and then spent two hours post-it note brainstorming to think about all the different things that fell into these topics. “Design Your Future” was one of the results, and we both felt strongly that exposing people to tools of design thinking and how they can apply to your life both professionally and personally was incredibly important.

Did this lead to any changes to the conference from previous years?

As the conference planning began to take place we used the theme to structure both the panels and interactive workshops. The panels had been traditionally industry focused and we decided to switch them to a functional focus. We wanted to give attendees a broad overview of all the different roles that can fall under one function like marketing, consulting or finance. This way if one worked or aspired to work in marketing, they could get a better idea of what “marketing” means across different industries in one panel.

The afternoon workshops focused on teaching attendees specific tools that are key to design thinking, whether it be reframing problems or learning how to tell stories. We wanted to ensure that at the end of the day attendees would be able to walk away with a “toolkit” around how to “Design their Future” going forward.

Did you do anything else differently?

On the day of the conference, we also conducted an interactive design thinking whiteboard activity designed by our classmate Lindsey Schatzberg, also MBA 14. In the morning, attendees were challenged to think about some opportunities they were facing in life, both personally and professionally. These opportunities were aggregated into four distinct themes around lunchtime and the afternoon then focused on attendees providing solutions and thoughts focused around these themes.

This activity was incredibly important because for most attendees this was their first exposure to design thinking and it allowed them to see the entire solutions based process of design thinking come to life.

What were key takeaways for you from the conference?

We received incredible feedback both at the conference and after on the keynotes, panels, workshops and everything in between. It was extremely rewarding for both Lauren and me to see a year of hard work play out and go off without a hitch. I know we are both so thrilled to have been a part of such a wonderful experience and that we had an amazing team to work with. The other ladies on the Women in Leadership board were incredibly instrumental in making this conference come to fruition.

Classified: An EMBA Immersion Applies Innovation Cycle Lessons to Dating

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This article is part of a series called Classified, in which we spotlight some of the more powerful lessons faculty are teaching in Haas classrooms. If you have a suggestion for a class to feature, please email Haas News editor

Two days into Applied Innovation Immersion Week at San Francisco’s towering Grace Cathedral, Joe Inkenbrandt, EMBA 14, is on the phone with his co-founders to schedule an urgent meeting. Inkenbrandt, an entrepreneur launching a startup to provide security for 3-D designs, is excited to share what he’s learning about the importance of gathering customer insights before the team goes much further.

This epiphany strikes during a week in the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program when students move through an entire innovation cycle—gathering customer insights to frame problems, ideating and iterating their way to a product or service, and sharing their ideas in a culminating challenge.

Cast Assumptions Aside

Haas Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman, a leader in making design thinking and problem framing part of b-school curriculum, and Michael Barry, of Stanford’s Design Program, are teaching this applied innovation module, one in a collection of EMBA immersion experiences.

The challenge: develop a product or service aimed at easing the pain points of dating. In one exercise, Beckman has students generate “how might we” questions to get ideas flowing. “The goal is to generate as many questions as possible,” says Beckman of this process, known as “diverging.”

Post-its, each with a single question, seem to fly onto the walls: How might we help people have more fulfilling social lives? How might we soften the blow of rejection? How might we cure loneliness?

The shared element is focus on the customer, an orientation Inkenbrandt finds helpful. “I can see that my company’s founding team is making a lot of assumptions about what the customer thinks,” he says.

Rapid Prototyping

Surrounded by walls festooned with fluorescent sticky notes, Beckman issues the call to “converge” and the EMBA student teams begin the process of selecting one “how might we” question around which to design a product or service.
But first, they get a lesson on building—prototyping being an important part of the innovation process. The challenge: In 10 minutes, using only paper and tape, create an object that will drop as slowly as possible from an indoor balcony in the cavernous Cathedral to the floor below.

Suddenly the room is full of people standing on chairs counting as they drop an array of paper airplanes, doilies, and parachutes. In the end, the top performers are a tiny scrap of paper and, the winner, at 12.9 seconds—a completely un-embellished 8.5×11 sheet of paper.

Ahead of a second build (this one involving toilet paper and foil), Barry instructs, “Pay attention to how your team worked and pulled knowledge together rapidly—you’ll need this on Friday.”

Create under Challenging Conditions

By Friday, challenge day, the teams have begun developing solutions to problems that plague dating. Three tables of judges await, and each team, sticking with the same judges, cycles through in a process rather like washing one’s hair—with iterate, feedback, repeat standing in for lather, rinse, repeat.

Team “Sage Date” launches into its initial pitch, acting out a skit in which an anxious woman on a date suddenly excuses herself to make a stealth call to Sage Date for advice. The judges express reservations about mid-dinner disruptions. After five rounds, the team has added pre-date prep to their panic-abatement model.

“The process isn’t about coming up with the perfect presentation for the afternoon challenge,” says Barry. “It’s about teaming and about figuring out how to be creative while managing resources and incorporating (potentially contradictory) feedback.”
“I’ve been doing some of these things,” says Inkenbrandt, “but now I feel like I’m moving forward with even more tools that have proven success.”

Winning Approaches: Kellogg Biotech & Healthcare Case Competition

Winning at Kellogg: Eric Fishcer, Emily Mou, David Kagan, Jennifer Wong, Champ

Winning at Kellogg: Eric Fischer, Emily Mou, David Kagan, Jennifer Wong, Champ Suthipongchai

The competition: Kellogg Biotech & Healthcare Case Competition, Jan. 25

The outcome:
Haas placed first

The team: David Kagan, MBA/MPH 15; Jennifer Wong, M. Engin. 15; Champ Suthipongchai, MBA 15; and Eric Fischer and Emily Mou, both MPH 15.

The Field: A total of 32 teams applied, from which 11 were selected to compete. They represented four countries and nine schools, including Cambridge, University of Chicago Booth, Rutgers, and Mexico’s IPADE Business School.

The challenge: Teams were tasked with determining how to allocate funding to reduce childhood mortality from pneumonia in developing countries, particularly Uganda.

The winning approach: “We took the classic design-thinking innovation approach, which allowed us to focus on what the patient experience was like, to be able to really craft solutions that worked within the context of a third-world culture,” says Kagan. “The idea of design thinking is that you spend most of your time trying to understand who your customer is and what their needs are. In this case, we labeled five major points in a mother’s journey for trying to take care of a sick child. Our plan was about trying to create mobile medical clinics and empowering villages with trained health care providers to improve local access to health care.”

What made them winners: Judges lauded the Haas team’s insight into the patient experience and innovative approach to economic sustainability via micro-financing.

The H factor: “Haas really teaches you how to think outside the box,” said Kagan. “If you break down a problem through the eyes of a customer and not through the eyes of yourself, you can generate a much more creative solution to help that customer.” (This is the third time a team from Haas won the competition; Haas teams also won in 2007 and 2013.)

Why it matters: Pneumonia is the leading case of childhood mortality worldwide, killing an estimated 1.1 million children under the age of five every year—more than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.