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GSBGEN 541: Innovation and Problem Solving

This project-based seminar is a rare opportunity for students to focus on a significant, currently ongoing problem from their work/lives: with the help of classmates, participants spend 5 weeks exploring how various problem-solving methods and frameworks can apply to their chosen projects. Problems that students have brought to the course in the past range from business challenges (e.g., designing part of a complex project, evaluating a business opportunity, creating a marketing plan), to problems of a more personal nature (e.g., determining one's career path). Each seminar session is divided into two parts: whole-group discussion and practice of a particular problem-solving tool, followed by a practicum, where students work pairwise in partnerships and receive feedback and assistance on their progress. The course is designed to achieve two goals. First, it will give you tools that should increase the probability that you'll make (hopefully substantial) progress on your problem. Second, it will introduce you to research that explains why it's sensible to try those tools on hard problems, i.e., the point of those tools.[1] Please note that the first goal is stated rather cautiously. There are good reasons for this. I expect that most students will be working on hard problems. (Everyone in the class will be getting help from classmates on their particular problem; why bother your peers with an easy problem that you could solve yourself?) An important idea in cognitive science, Newell¿s Law, says that magic doesn't exist: if a problem-solving method is powerful (very likely to solve a certain type of problem), then it only works on a narrow class of problems. So this course will not give you tools that are both powerful and general. It can't: such tools don't exist. Happily, improving your problem-solving skills, at least in certain domains, is possible, and that's what the course aims to do. Progress on hard problems usually requires help from friends and colleagues. Virtually all researchers of creativity agree that most innovations that are both bold and useful involve multiple problem solvers. This course will implement this important pattern by requiring every student help a classmate with their problem. Another important empirical regularity in the field of innovation is that when problems are hard many (perhaps most) candidate-solutions don't work out. It's easy to accept that about other people's ideas; about my own, not so much. So a vital component of effective problem-solving is tough-minded evaluation. This implies rejecting bad ideas or bad parts of a would-be solution. Hence, at the end of the course you will be required to evaluate the progress that a classmate has made on his/her problem and to explain your assessment. (For obvious reasons you will not evaluate the same person you're helping.) In sum, every student will do three things in this course: generate new ways to make some progress on a problem of their own choosing; help somebody else work on their project; evaluate somebody¿s progress. Implementing this design effectively requires that everybody sign on to a social contract: everybody agrees to take all three roles seriously. [1] Some students taking GSBGEN 541 might expect a d.school style course. There are similarities: e.g., GSBGEN 541 is project-based, as are many d.school courses. But there are also important differences. In particular, this course explains why some problem-solving techniques work better than others by introducing students to key research on cognition and organizational decision making.
Terms: Spr | Units: 2
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