Inside UBC Sauder Executive Education

Professor Darren Dahl believes rediscovered childhood creativity could transform business innovation

Professor Darren Dahl believes rediscovered childhood creativity could transform business innovation

Ranked by the American Marketing Association as the second leading marketing researcher in the world, UBC Sauder Professor Darren Dahl brings to life his expertise in consumer behaviour, creativity and leadership for managers enrolled in the course Strategy and Innovation.

Describe your teaching style in Executive Education.

I have a highly interactive teaching style. The Strategy and Innovation course brings together managers from across industries who all possess extremely rich and varied work experiences. I create an environment where their valuable insights feed into the content of the class, allowing them to learn as much from each other as they do from me. This makes the learning experience extremely meaningful and dramatically increases its impact.

What are the top three things a leader needs to inspire innovation in her/his organization?

First, you need to believe in and embrace innovation as a key part of the organization’s culture. You can’t lead innovation unless you have an innovator’s mindset. It has to be part of your management style, because people learn by example. Second, you need to empower people to be creative by giving them time and space to experiment and fail. Third, you need to show that you value and measure creativity and innovation and reward it. Innovation can only take root in an organization if people are celebrated and rewarded for it.

You talk about creativity being at the root of innovation. How do you teach participants to tap into their creative sides?

You don’t need to teach creativity – it’s something that already lives inside them. It’s more about helping them exercise the muscle. When you’re four or five you have boundless creativity and curiosity, but it often gets lost along the way in school. We push participants to rediscover their innate creativity and tap into it so it can be applied to the innovation process. It’s more about relearning than learning.  We use a variety of techniques, like Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats theory, which helps set some rules of engagement so that managers can lead the creative process with their teams beginning the day they get back to work.

Can you describe how you use case studies in the class to bring business strategy to life for participants?

Business cases are in many ways just extremely compelling stories, stories that have uncertainty and a problem that needs to be solved. We look at several companies known for their out-of-box approach to creativity and problem solving—like Google and Pixar—and trace their approach back to the innovation at their root. As we lead participants through case studies we help them discover takeaways, what they should learn from them and how they can apply what they learn to their organizations.

Strategy and Innovation is a six-day course where participants actually stay in an executive downtown hotel.

Why is this an important aspect of the course?

Strategy and Innovation is an intense learning experience. We want to give participants the chance to unplug from work and family and give them a comfortable environment so that they can completely focus on grappling with the ideas presented and the relationships they form in class. It’s very immersive – students do a deep dive together and get to places of investigation that just wouldn’t be possible any other way. The professional rewards are huge, and the close bonds formed between the participants and the network of support they can draw on afterward are invaluable.

How do you ensure participants are equipped to put what they've learned to work the day they get back to the office?

We work really hard in the program to give participants practical tools and strategies they can put to work that have proven benefits for organizations. It’s about giving people something to hang onto that is tangible and useful from the moment they step into the classroom. We’re small on theory and big on application. We teach participants the steps they need to lead innovation, pull apart and solve complex business challenges and inspire creativity in their teams through brainstorming and other techniques. We end every day by asking students to pause, reflect and think about what they learned, so they can point to particular aspects they can bring back to work on Monday morning.

What is the most significant thing you've noticed about how the course transforms participants' abilities?

It awakens people. It awakens a part of creativity in business or management that many people haven’t thought of, or haven’t considered or applied before and they find immense value in that.

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