17 Dec 2015

Design Thinking: Hands-On Learning At The Harvard Innovation Lab


Photo by Stephanie Mitchell

Professor Srikant Datar’s creative problem-solving course, Design Thinking and Innovation, brings students together to hone their skills in identifying opportunities, prototyping solutions, and iterating to meet customer needs.

“Creative problem solving is best done in teams,” says Datar, who is faculty chair of the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab) and Arthur Lowes Dickinson Professor of Business Administration. “It’s like learning how to swim—you actually need to get into the pool and practice.”

Students in the initial fall course, and in a new January follow-up offering, are encouraged to team up with peers from other backgrounds. “Those who work across disciplines almost always come up with better and more powerful ideas,” says Datar, noting that the 30 budding entrepreneurs met regularly as a group in the i-lab to talk through ideas and serve as sounding boards for each other. Courses at the i-lab are open to students from across Harvard as well as from Tufts and MIT.

Course projects have ranged widely, but most solved problems through the innovative use of technology. One team, for example, developed an app that provides a more efficient, equitable, and sustainable method of regulating fishing, while another team worked with homeless people to create artwork that would generate income. “The students are fantastic,” says Datar. “A key aspect of the experience is learning to connect with people who are different from you. You can’t do that through a lecture.”

Datar’s original Design Thinking and Innovation course in fall 2012 attracted some 200 applicants from across the University for the elective’s 50 seats. The course has now expanded to three sections. Buoyed by the increasing interest in the topic, Datar developed the January-term follow-up course for students who want to take their ideas to the next level and pursue their ventures.


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