MBA internships: design thinking in practice at IDEO

By Laura Counts

Sandeep Pahuja, MBA 15, is interning with global design consultancy IDEO in San Francisco. Here's an account—in his own words—of his experiences as a business designer in the Food Studio 

Student: Sandeep Pahuja, Full-Time MBA 15

Sandeep Pahuja

IDEO because: During Orientation Week (exactly one year ago!), IDEO Partner and Berkeley MBA 83 Alumnus Tom Kelley spoke about IDEO and design thinking. I had certainly heard of IDEO, but this was the first time I heard someone really explain the company in detail. It immediately became my dream internship. I sought out the role of business designer because it is the perfect blend of creativity and strategy.

Excited about: IDEO’s human-centered design approach starts with understanding user needs by talking with and watching users in context. I was thrilled to do ethnographic research this summer and engage with potential users directly.

For one of my projects, we worked with a large consumer packaged goods (CPG) company to help them enter a new category by creating a new brand and products. We made numerous prototypes to take out in the field and show to people. We were able to talk to more than 140 people in a few days about the brand and prototypes we were working on.

It was incredible to get feedback from that many people so quickly—it forced us to rethink some assumptions. It was an unbelievable learning experience that informed how we proceeded.

A highlight: The magic of IDEO comes from interdisciplinary teams. One of my teams included industrial product designers, graphic designers, a writer, a food scientist, an anthropologist, a former brand manager, a former Google product manager, and me. When you put together a team like that, you have everyone looking at problems from a different angle, and generating totally different ideas about how to attack them. It creates an incredibly rich environment that is very exciting.

Being surrounded by smart and talented people every day has been amazing, and getting to dive deep on problems with smaller teams has been enlightening.

Inside IDEO: The culture at IDEO is weird in the best way possible. Like Haas, IDEO has its own core values: be optimistic, collaborate, embrace ambiguity, learn from failure, make others successful, take ownership, and talk less/do more. Taken together it’s creative, informal, fun, serious (in project spaces), transparent, random, and rebellious. IDEOers are constantly sharing, learning, and doing.

Every day we get at least one company-wide email from an IDEOer is seeking inspiration for a project, and the whole company gets many thoughtful responses. We have Google groups where people post links to the things they believe are worth sharing. IDEOers take it upon themselves to help others learn new skills. This summer, we’ve had IDEOers from our China and Japan offices come in to share not only their amazing work but also what they’ve been challenged by in their countries. I love that people are always willing to help out, coach, and teach.

Design humor

One example of random fun at the office: one of our bathrooms has a chalkboard wall that has different questions on it. Right now the question is “what do you collect?” In true IDEO fashion, there are many different answers on Post-it notes, but my favorite has to be the hilarious collection of corny jokes. It’s the little, random things like this that really add to the IDEO culture.

Haas skills applied: Most new problems we face are different from the last ones, and they challenge us to look for different angles. Design thinking enable teams to turn big, unwieldy problems into digestible chunks. Thankfully, Haas teaches design thinking in the core program with Problem Finding, Problem Solving, so I was able to start my internship already having been through parts of the process.

Advancing career goals by: My #1 goal a year ago was to work at IDEO and really get into the design-thinking process. I’ve been lucky enough to have an incredible experience at IDEO this summer that has let me do both. Coming back to Haas, I plan on taking as many opportunities as possible to practice design thinking and to keep developing my skills.

Learn More About Design Thinking at Berkeley Haas

Posted on August 18, 2014
Laura Counts
Laura is a senior marketing and communications manager at Berkeley-Haas. As a former journalist, she finds no shortage of interesting stories to tell at Haas. As a Cal alum, she loves being able to walk to work through redwood groves along Strawberry Creek.