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Additive Manufacturing and Design Thinking: Two Cutting Edge Approaches to Business Education

guy_pfeffermann_webEncouraging student connections to the “real world” is at the heart of pedagogical creativity. I was fortunate this month to learn about two approaches, one at the Darden School of Business (University of Virginia), the other at UmeŒ School of Business and Economics, both members of GBSN.

Darden’s Professor Jeanne Liedtka ran a GBSN webinar on the Design Thinking, which is defined as “a human-centered innovation process that emphasizes observation, collaboration, fast learning, visualization of ideas, rapid concept prototyping, and concurrent business analysis.” If that sounds forbidding, think of students starting by trying to understanding people’s needs, discovering new possibilities, and where “first solutions” are only stepping stones to better ones. Or, put differently, move in succession from: What is? to What if? to What wows? to What works?

A Danish “Meals-on-Wheels” organization bringing meals to the homes of the elderly, “The Good Kitchen,” is a case in point. Far from being “Good,” none of the people involved in this outfit liked it. Seniors were embarrassed to accept government assistance. They hated to no longer be able to choose their food. They were lonely, eating all by themselves, and missed the joy of seasonal food variety. To complete the picture, workers who produced the food were bored and unmotivated, creating the same meals day after day.

The student team found out about these feelings and asked themselves: What if the public-service food delivery organization were a restaurant? At the end of the Design process cooks felt like chefs, vehicle operators thought of themselves as waiters, and meal descriptions became menus. Job satisfaction soared, and most importantly, not only did the elderly regain some sense of autonomy, they socialized more with one another and with Good Kitchen personnel.

Do watch the webinar recording that discusses this illustration and further outlines design thinking.

And now to the “Business of Making.” Additive Manufacturing (AM), also called 3D printing, free form fabrication, rapid manufacturing and rapid prototyping are the collective names used for manufacturing methods to make objects by joining materials. The UmeŒ School of Business and Economics is a partner in FabLab, where thought and concepts can quickly and easily be translated into physical prototypes.

Say a student or a team of students is working on a business plan centered around a physical product. Opened a year ago, FabLab offers free 3D printers with which entrepreneurial students can turn their concepts into objects. Open source code and cheap desktop printers make the process relatively inexpensive, and the cost of photopolymer (the goo which the printers shape) is coming down fast.AM is a catalyst for innovation, as it brings together people from different disciplines who can collaborate and innovate in unprecedented ways.

AM benefits the local economy, especially small firms, because they can themselves experiment with product improvements and innovations Ð something that only very large companies located far away were able do until now. By using AM entrepreneurs can find new customers and expand markets.

GBSN’s upcoming Annual Conference in Manila is all about disruptive innovation in education. Darden and UmeŒ will be there. I am looking forward to discussions between some of the business schools that use these techniques and schools of the developing world that may find them useful. I expect that together we can find innovative ways to lower costs and adapt ideas like Design Thinking and FabLab to developing world environments.

Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder & CEO of the Global Business School Network