5 of Our Favorite Design Thinking Academics

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Written by Digital Surgeons,
• 4 min read

Big businesses, lean startups, and schools are using design thinking principles to help achieve their objectives. In the years ahead, we will see more research coming out of academia on how design thinking drives growth and innovation.

Professors in great American research institutions are leading the way in publishing and lecturing on how design thinking enhances business growth. We love to learn about more academics that are teaching and researching on design thinking since they are educating the future business leaders on the value it produces for practitioners.

Here is our list of 5 academics that are driving design thinking in academia.

1) Srikant Datar (Harvard Business School)

Professor Datar is the Arthur Lowes Dickinson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is also the chair of the Harvard Innovation lab. In addition to having written an article titled “Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving,” he also teaches an MBA course on design thinking and innovative problem solving.

2) Joel Schindall (MIT)

Professor Schindall is the director of MIT’s Engineering leadership program. His research centers on industrial design, communication skills, and engineering ethics. He teaches a course on “Mastering Innovation and Design Thinking.”

Recognizing the importance of design in the innovation process, he says that “for you to be successful at work, you need to know how to think like a designer when approaching an engineering task alone, but you especially need design-thinking skills when working within a team or leading a team.”

3) Jeanne Liedtka (Darden School of Business at UVA)

Professor Liedtka is the former chief learning officer at UTC. She specialized in design thinking and growth. She has written Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers and gives lectures on design thinking. She also teaches on online course on design thinking and innovation.

4) Professor Rodrigo Canales (Yale School of Management)

Professor Canales is an associate professor of organizational behavior. He works on how individuals change complex organizations, and also on entrepreneurship more broadly.

He’s a proponent of design thinking. He understands the type of value that design thinking brings to the businesses since “now they're solving for a much broader, much more complex set of issues…As a discipline, design is about putting things together; it's about understanding first of all, how people behave, and most important, how people behave when inserted into their context and their systems.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Professor Canales has also given a fascinating TED talk about the economics of the Mexican drug cartels.

5)  Roger Martin (Martin Prosperity Institute)

Professor Martin, currently the director of the Martin Prosperity Insitute, was the former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. A longstanding proponent of design thinking, he has written a book titled “The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage” and articles on design thinking.  

One of our favorite design thinking articles is his HBR article “Design for Action” which he co-wrote with Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO.

He and Brown eloquently summarize the business potential of design thinking when they write that, “Design thinking began as a way to improve the process of designing tangible products. But that’s not where it will end. The Intercorp story and others like it show that design thinking principles have the potential to be even more powerful when applied to managing the intangible challenges involved in getting people to engage with and adopt innovative new ideas and experiences.”

As more companies rely on design thinking to produce creative solutions to their customers’ painpoints, academics in MBA programs will produce more research and teach more courses on the value that design thinking delivers to the business world. These five academics recognize the importance of design thinking, and we expect that more business school professors will incorporate design thinking into their curriculums to prepare their students to work in cross-functional work settings.

Let’s have a conversation about how design thinking research can impact your business.