I teach a multidisciplinary product development course at Boston University. For their semester project, the students have to develop a new product that incorporates what they are learning in Marketing, Operations Management, Finance, and Information Systems. At this point in the class it is beginning to dawn on the students that there are no fixed, prescriptive answers for what they should be doing, or how they should be doing it relative to their specific projects. Up until this point, there were clear guidelines for what was expected of them. In terms of course material, there still are clear guidelines for what they should study and how they will be tested on the material. However, the project is different. Some students who performed well in fact-based classes find themselves at a loss for what to do - the project is terrifying. Others find the project to be a platform in which they can exercise leadership skills that didn't have an outlet previously, and thrive in the ambiguous, autonomous environment - the project is liberating. All of them come away with a much better sense of how work needs to be done when they enter the workforce.
John Hagel recently posted a review of his colleague's new book "A New Culture of Learning". According to Hagel's review, the book discusses the need for new models of learning that will embrace tension and ambiguity, and stress the development of new ideas by encouraging imagination and play. I couldn't agree more.
What's interesting to me is that what I'm seeing in the classroom is exactly what I see happening with my clients. In the past, their success was clearly defined and measured. However, it is no longer possible to compete by using static metrics that encourage static behaviors in our increasingly dynamic economy. The industrial revolution has had a good run, but it has run its course.
People resist change because it's scary, and one of the things I think is most scary is not knowing whether or not you're on the right track. When I work with both students and clients, I spend most of my time creating appropriate evaluation methods and metrics. For students I help them to think through whether or not they are solving the right problem, and then I help them to figure out how to know that their solutions are working. It's the same with clients, but to a much more detailed, in-depth degree which often takes the form of innovation strategy and process development. It's also what I often find missing in much of the writing out there on innovation. There are lots of thoughts on how to come up with new ideas. There are far fewer thoughts on how to identify a successful idea. I look forward to continuing to develop new learning models that do not tell people what to think and do, but help people to think through the implications of what they do.