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Nathan Shedroff Gives Five Tips For Design-Oriented MBA Students

Written by
sophieborchjacobsen
Published date
18 August 2014
Photo Credit: Nathan Shedroff

Photo Credit: Nathan Shedroff

In our second guest-post by Nathan Shedroff, the program chair of the Masters in Business Administration (MBA) in Design Strategy at the California College of the Arts, Nathan fuels from the success of his course to share helpful insights. Here, he gives five tips for design-oriented MBA students.

1) Numbers aren’t that scary. What likely scares design students is the experience of dealing with quantitatively-focused people who think that the numbers ARE the story (and all of it) instead of just a part of the story that needs to be told. Numbers should never make the decision (and this includes “big data”) but they should inform decisions and designers can’t be afraid of what numbers say.
2) Designers go into design fields because they’re comfortable with the qualitative in life. Traditional business people (and most business students) go into business because of the opposite—they trust numbers and “recipes” and feel lost without them. That sets-up a natural dichotomy (or even conflict). But both are necessary for informed strategy and decisions, as well as execution. Designers can help their peers better understand the power and qualitative value (which FAR outweighs quantitative value and is actually what most business people are after—they just don’t realize it or know how to phrase it). And, since most of our business peers aren’t willing to learn our language or processes, it’s up to us to learn theirs and be the translators.
3) Designers weile an incredible amount of influence (which is, ultimately, where leadership lives) because they can communicate visually. I’ve seen designers excel repeatedly within teams of mixed skills and experience because they can sketch something others are trying to articulate. In addition, our presentations are often more clear and attractive and strategy is about storytelling, after all.
4) Many qual people enter traditional business programs thinking that business has to be dry and serious to be legitimate. It doesn’t. Most “natural” business leaders and entrepreneurs know that people and ambiguity are opportunities to play, explore, and find new opportunities that others don’t see. The three tips above should explain why. A traditional degree doesn’t confer legitimacy or quality in and of itself—even at a hallowed institution. Some of the most respected programs in the world are ridiculously behind when it comes to teaching contemporary leadership, collaboration skills, design thinking, systems thinking, or project-based learning (instead of reading and regurgitating past cases). Students should look for programs that feel innovative in curriculum, teaching methods, and environment if they hope to be equipped for success tomorrow. The past isn’t an armory for the future.
5) By all means, don’t go join a business program right out of an undergraduate degree. This isn’t like an engineering, medicine, or law degree. As much as you’re rushing to become the business leader or designer you want to be, business programs require some experience to work from. Five—or even three—years of work experience gives students materials and lessons on which to draw and learn. We’ve had students ranging in age from 23 to 60 in the DMBA programs and I’ve seen the same lesson played-out in other MBA programs, as well: students simply learn more and “get more for their money” the more experience they have before they enter an MBA program.
– Nathan Shedroff, Program Chair, MBA in Design Strategy, California College of the Arts
As always, we welcome your thoughts via our survey at the bottom of the CSM MBA course page.