From Mindful Leadership to Coding, Students Build Career Skills in Applied Innovation Workshops

Lecturer Lisa Solomon, author of Moments of Impact, teaches a workshop on "Designing Strategic Conversations for Innovation."

Meeting rage is a silent epidemic, lecturer Lisa Solomon tells a class of about 30 full-time Berkeley MBA students at a recent workshop. After all, everyone has probably attended a meeting that felt like a waste of time. So how do you design a conversation that sparks creativity and innovation?

Students learned the answer to that question in Solomon’s workshop, titled "Designing Strategic Conversations for Innovation," one of a half-dozen offerings in the Full-time Berkeley MBA Program’s new Applied Innovation Workshop Series.

"It was great to learn how you could build an engaging presentation in a larger retreat setting to help people understand what the problems are," Kavita Patel, MBA 15, said after attending the workshop led by Solomon, an expert within the intersecting spaces of design, leadership, and innovation.

In addition to providing concrete tips—such as "get visual" and "introduce disruption"—Solomon shared several colorful examples of effective meetings and retreats. For instance, to emphasize the importance of mobile strategy at a retreat of top-level executives at Intuit, the company's VP of innovation and design confiscated the executives' BlackBerries. Then she required them to use new smartphones that they had never used before to complete a scavenger hunt.

“The next day, everyone’s commitment to mobile was visceral,” Solomon told students.

The Applied Innovation Workshop Series is designed to help students build skills that are not generally offered in the formal curriculum to help them in their job search and post-MBA careers. Other workshops have covered everything from mindful leadership to personal storytelling.

Another popular workshop was Intro to Code for MBAs, six sessions of 2 ½ hours each, designed to teach students with a non-technical background the tools, processes, and vocabulary used by developers today.

"The goal is really for students to have a better understanding of how code is used by developers. Many students won't become coders but they will interview better because they understand the lingo, the tools, and the actual process of coding," explains alumnus Joe Wadcan, MBA 12, who taught the class. "And it is useful to understand the terminology when you are about to enter a technical company."

Wadcan taught a similar, shorter version of the class at Haas in the past through the student Entrepreneurs Association so that MBA candidates could avoid the mistakes he made when learning to code. For his latest version in the Applied Innovation Workshop Series, he added a panel discussion of people whose work involves coding, including developers and product managers from small startups and large companies.

Frances Chang, MBA 15, said she found the panel to be a useful way to test what she had learned in the class. "It was a safe setting to test if the information we knew was valuable or just enough to get us into trouble," says Chang, who hopes to work at the intersection of technology and the social sector.

"Understanding what the coder has to work with at a very high level is very important," she says. And "since the class was taught by an alum, the coding workshop was a good opportunity to ask questions in a very supportive environment."