Today, specializing in just one field — like design, engineering or entrepreneurship — is no longer enough. Instead, those who are looking to start their own company, invent something truly great or just improve the mechanics of a certain product need to have a handle in multiple areas.
Now, universities are responding to this need. The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia has just launched a new Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship in Action course for MBAs. And the Carnegie Mellon University’s Integrated Innovation Institute, created in 2014 and offered in both the Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley campuses (with a possible Brooklyn location TBA), is the first business-oriented graduate program in the U.S. to cross-train its students in engineering, product design and entrepreneurship.
“The worlds of engineering, design and business make a product performance-ready, desirable and economically viable,” says Peter Boatwright, co-director of the Integrated Innovation Institute and professor at the Tepper School of Business. “When you think about innovation, it’s got to be multidisciplinary if it’s going to work.”
Boatwright tells us why it’s important for both MBAs and techies to branch out and diversify.
It marries creating with making money
Who hasn’t worked in a place where the innovators and creators have clashed with the moneymakers and purse-string-holders? By teaching engineers how to run a business or MBAs the basics of product design, you’re not only creating an understanding between these disparate groups, you’re also leading the way to more innovative, more affordable and more life-changing products.
“The integration of these skills takes away the ‘them’ and ‘us’ and pulls it together into a collective ‘us.’ Think of it as a step up from collaboration,” Boatwright says.
It also creates more nimble workers. “Solving multiple problems takes a broader kind of thinking,” says Boatwright, “so that’s what we train our students to do.”
It gives students hands-on experiences
Fieldwork or capstone projects are a big feature of these types of programs. For example, as part of Carnegie Mellon’s Integrated Product Development course, students work in teams to recognize and conceptualize new product opportunities in the marketplace.
These projects are sponsored by either the university or a corporate partner. For Spring 2015, Volvo Construction Equipment sponsored a student group working to advance construction site safety, a proposal chosen ahead of time by the faculty and the corporation. That capstone became SiteAware, which uses a laser radar, or LIDAR, system and cameras to help employees better navigate their surroundings and avoid injuring others and themselves while operating machinery.
“Some of the companies see in the news what Carnegie Mellon is capable of doing and they come to us,” Boatwright says. “Volvo, after the fact, said [SiteAware] was superb. They didn’t expect, in the world of safety, for a team of students to do something safer than what they had thought of.”
It will boost your job marketability
Boatwright, along with co-directors Jonathan Cagan and Eric Anderson, created the Institute at a time when major companies felt the need to improve their approach to innovation. They believed there was more to learn outside of Carnegie Mellon’s already existing master’s degree program, especially if the marketplace their graduates were entering was demanding a new approach to product and service development.
And so far it seems to be true: Microsoft, MakerBot Industries and Nissan are only a few companies to already hire graduates of the program.
“It’s an ongoing set of things that have brought about and shaped us,” Boatwright says. “There are needs in the marketplace; that by itself says that there’s a need to understand how to create value and do a better job.”