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Sandjar Kozubeav Tells CSM MBA Why Design is a Gateway to a New Kind of Leadership

Written by
sophieborchjacobsen
Published date
27 August 2014
Photo Credit: CC Nic McPhee

Photo Credit: CC Nic McPhee

“In 2009, I decided to pursue an advanced business degree. I came to a conclusion that a traditional business degree is not right for me, and once I came to that realization, suddenly my options become very limited. For me, the discipline of design became the only choice that made sense. 

Here is why I think that design is a gateway to a new kind of leadership; the kind of leadership that most needed but also most scarce today.

Strategy as Aesthetics In business, good strategy has value primarily because it has power to deliver business results (competitive edge, market share growth etc.) In other words, good strategy had only an instrumental value – a means to an end. The downside is that focus on results became an obsession with results and subsequently, limited the potential of strategic thinking. What design can help us realize is that good strategy has not only instrumental value but also intrinsic value. Good strategic thought is beautiful and useful in its own right. The balance between form and function is one of the central tenets of design and strategy has a lot to learn from it. Thinking of strategy as aesthetics is not something you would learn in traditional business school, but that’s exactly what is needed to solve “wicked problems” be it innovation, governance, management or environmental sustainability.

The Power of Making One of the advantages of being part of an art & design community is that you see people making things; all the time. What’s more important, you develop your own sensibilities of how making, tinkering, and feeling the material with your hands can help you frame a business problem or communicate an idea. The ability to make things, also transforms you as an individual. It opens your eyes and empowers you to make your own solutions for yourself, your home, community, or even your planet, rather than waiting for someone else to make it for you to consume.

Photo Credit: CC The New York Hall of Science

Photo Credit: CC The New York Hall of Science

Visual Communication So much of business leadership is a bout communication, yet so much of this communication is about words. Words on paper, spoken in a meeting, projected on a PowerPoint, sent via e-mail. Design communicates visually. Sure words are important in design, but it compels, engages, convinces and challenges … visually. This was one of the most important changes in my day to day behavior I made after going through the DMBA experience. When I’m thinking about new ideas, I start sketching it. It doesn’t matter if it’s on paper or on screen, and it doesn’t matter if I’m alone, with my colleagues or with clients. Visual expression helps me create, collaborate and lead in a way that words never could. To designers, it comes as second nature, but to many business leaders it doesn’t.

Leading with Empathy Delivering a solution (product, service, etc.) that your customers want has been on the minds of business leaders for a long time. It’s one of the reasons why marketing as a discipline has such an important role in business strategy. This trend is most evident in business-to-consumer space. However, developing true empathy for people, whether we are talking about customers or even employees, remains a major challenge for modern businesses. Nurturing human understanding and empathy is another central tenet of design. I think it’s a key to solving not only our most pressing business challenges but also the most complex social and economic issues our world faces today.   These are some of many reasons why I decided to pursue a graduate business degree at an art and design school rather than a business school. This kind of education is not right for everybody, but those who consider these values and concepts relevant to their business, career and personal growth strategies should give this a serious thought. Today, there aren’t many business and leadership programs in design schools around the world. But their number is growing and design will continue to grow its influence in how we solve problems and shape our future.”

– Sandjar Kozubaev is an economist, experience strategist and a futurist at Sparks Grove North Highland, a global management consultancy firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an alumnus of the MBA in Design Strategy program at California College of the Arts (Class of 2012). You can follow him on Twitter at @sandjar.

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