A new frontier

This fall I'll be teaching a class at the business school at BU.  It should be an interesting experience, as the class emphasizes multidisciplinary product development.  This class has been offered for a while, so the materials are pretty well set.  I'm looking forward to collaborating with the other faculty members, as we each teach a section within a specific discipline, but the students' project needs to span the disciplines. 

I'll be teaching an Operations section, and what will be interesting is that I'll be able to focus on making the connections many clients have trouble with.  For example, if the students learn about market research in one class, they seldom learn how a consumer need could impact an internal, operational decision.  Making these connections will be fun, and I will be interested to explore the students' natural aptitude for making these types of connections.  I'm curious about whether or not people are more holistic thinkers naturally, and whether it's the corporate silo system that beats it out of them.  I'm also curious to know whether this type of thinking is hard-wired into some people, or whether it can be learned.  Of course I don't expect there to be black and white answers to these questions, but I will be curious about the trends.

A friend asked me what was the most important point I wanted to get across in the class.  From my perspective, I'd love for the students to understand that the tools and processes necessary to develop a product are not usually the best tools and processes to generate ideas for new products.  This is where I see many clients get into trouble.  I think the question comes down to whether or not you truly have the courage to start with the unknown, rather than an idea for a known, tangible product.  I'd also like to make sure they truly understand the difference between a product specification and the criteria for an offering that will be valued by the market.  Most people think these are the same, but they are very, very different.

I'm sure that by the end of the semester I'm sure my expectations will need to be reset in ways I can't imagine.  But now I just hope I can impart some wisdom beyond their textbook learning to help them to do more meaningful work.  I'd like to help them to be the type of employees that may not be described as the best behaved, but as the ones whose ideas actually work.