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Three Things I Learned in Design School Applicable to the Business World

I haven’t been active here because I’m working on my MBA. After a year in school and an internship in management consulting, I realize I have a lot to be thankful for from my design education. Besides teaching me some very important lessons in several pockets of marketing and product development, I picked up some useful habits. While the business world isn’t ready for many of the working methods that designers use, here are a few lessons that I’ve found immediately applicable.

1. Being first helps set the stage and control dialogue… as long as you maintain credibility. In design school, I tried to lead in my use of materials. When others saw and started getting interested in those materials, they evolved my understanding of what could be done, which in turn, led to greater learning in less time. In business school, if you are first in structuring a problem approach or communication method (and if it’s thoughtful enough and/or you’re credible enough to get buy in), you control the output and rally people around a common goal. I’ve seen this work in team homework, case competitions, group projects/presentations, and managing upward during my summer internship.

2. Be proactive in improving a situation. When I started design school, I had no real fundamentals. I had to learn things that were second nature to others very quickly. So whenever I got an assignment, I doubled it. If I had to design a lamp, I created a series of lamp explorations. I made a lot of mistakes in a short amount of time and learned the importance of tolerances, jigs, and fitting tool to task. In the business world, everyone has problems. You get close to people by removing barriers to their success. The people who have helped me grow the most in business school are the same people I’ve spent the most time helping upgrade their skills. And during my internship, helping a senior manager get a seat at the partner table by developing white papers on a subject he was interested in starting a practice in resulted in a full-time offer.

3. Contribute to the conversation or get out of the way. Design school critiques can be brutal. You’ve invested a lot of imagination, time, and effort into making something that’s at best meant to communicate what you’ve got going on in your head. You develop a thick skin quickly, but you also learn who is giving you actionable advice and who’s asking questions without furthering the conversation. In business school, I’ve worked with a lot of people. Some will ask a lot of questions that slow down a conversation without ever contributing to forward progress. They often make excuses for having no deliverables because they, “didn’t understand the objectives.” In a design brainstorm session, these people are quickly outed or ignored. In business, if you’re going to ask a question, be prepared to do something with the answer or you’ll be labeled as one of the ineffectives that none of the competents want to work with. It’s okay to disagree, but stick to the topic at hand. Deflect a conversation forward.

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