In the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program, innovation is experiential. As part of the core curriculum, students take Applied Innovation, a course culminating in the Mid-Program Academic Retreat (MPAR), also known as WE Innovate.
In this deeply rigorous weekend for the part-time MBA program, students draw upon the business knowledge they've built through core coursework and their growing innovation skills to take on a current challenge faced by a top company, such as McDonald's, WalMart, and American Experess Labs.
260 students, 41 teams, and 26 corporate challenges. It all adds up to learning, reflection, innovation, and impact. Take a look at what goes on during the evening and weekend MBA program's WE Innovate weekend:
Friday afternoon and evening
The entire class of 2017 embraces a “beginner’s mindset” as they get to know new teammates and figure out how to work together. The room buzzes with the sound of roles, responsibilities, processes and timelines being hashed out. Too often at work, Kjiersten Fagnan (left), data science engagement group lead for Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, sees “people go up to their corners and try to think independently.” She says she’s really enjoyed the group dynamic of the weekend and the program. “You never know when someone might trigger an idea that the team can then connect and build upon.”
Each team of four or five students is also meeting with its corporate partner. Participating in MPAR gives the companies “fresh ideas, new perspectives, and access to a great pool of potential employees,” says Eric Davis of corporate client Abbot Diabetes Care.
After dinner, the teams reconvene to frame a series of “how might we?” questions that launch their work. Building on the work already done in Applied Innovation and on input from their corporate partner, they generate five ideas to pursue. Work continues as late into the evening as the teams’ enthusiasm and energy permit.
Saturday morning, teams and partners revisit their earlier work and choose one idea to refine and present that afternoon. They gather in teams around flip charts in different corners of Napa's Silverado resort. Rainbows of Post-It® notes arc across the walls. The energy is high; the volume mounts as one idea builds on another. Teams focus on the user experience, crafting a customer story and figuring out how to tell it with precision and power. They refine their business models and identify next steps, checking in often with their corporate partners.
“I used to think innovation was something people were born with, a spark. Now I know better,” says Dominus Suen (above, center), a project manager with construction giant Syserco. “Classes like AI and Problem Finding Problem Solving have taught me how to bring up new topics and show my co-workers why new ideas are so important.”
Early Saturday Afternoon
A working lunch gives teams more time to polish their presentations—no PowerPoint allowed! Instead, teams use their eight minutes (plus two minutes for questions) to make an authentic connection with their audience.
Haas Executive-in-Residence and former Yahoo Marketing VP David Riemer coaches teams on honing their stories for maximum impact. “Come back to the customer” is a frequent and critical piece of advice. For example, The Gap team has good ideas about recycling worn T-shirts—“Imagine them being remade into a brand-new tablecloth”—but needs to get closer to the customer who would buy the tablecloth. The students, accustomed to receiving feedback, pivot easily.
Later Saturday Afternoon
Each team presents its story, solution, and business model to a small group of students and faculty members, who give both qualitative and quantitative feedback. The best presentations then go head-to-head in front of the entire audience, vying for the coveted MPAR Cup.
But even better than taking home the trophy is what students bring back to their jobs. Richa Gujarati (right), for example, has done a lot of design thinking on the job as a product manager at St. Jude Medical, but was excited to apply the new frameworks learned at Berkeley-Haas to a new product development concept at St. Jude—and to share them with co-workers.
“People really tuned in and were very creative,” she says. “I’ve realized there’s a lot of value in going out of your comfort zone.”