One Student’s “Unique and Valuable” Innovation Experience

“Can arts-based techniques improve the innovation process of a large company?”

That was the question that one of the Mack Institute’s corporate partners wanted my team to explore in last semester’s Collaborative Innovation Program (CIP), a class in which firms submit an innovation challenge they want students to help them address. The company asked us to assist them in identifying some of these non-traditional arts-driven techniques, describe how they are being applied across industries, and show how the lessons learned might apply to their own work.

The biggest challenge with this particular project was its scope. Our client didn’t have a specific problem they wanted us to solve as much as they wanted us to take a wide-lens view of a variety of techniques across multiple industries, then decide which ones might be most relevant to them. Giving them a broad enough overview of how various industries use the arts to enhance innovation efforts — while still keeping our examples relevant to them — was a formidable challenge.

Ultimately, we came to recognize that the client needed us to recommend specific tools and techniques to them, based not only on their opinions but also on our team’s expertise. What finally made the project a success was our realization that we had the power to drive the project in the direction we felt would be most useful to our client.

What Makes CIP Different

I have participated in both the Field Application Project (FAP) program at Wharton as well as CIP. Although both programs offer project-based learning, the CIP innovation experience offers some unique advantages that students interested in the program should be aware of.

First, CIP involves students from multiple schools, including Penn Engineering, the Integrated Product Design (IPD) program, and in some rare occasions even undergraduates. My team consisted of three Wharton students and a designer from IPD. I had a really unique and valuable experience getting exposure to the techniques students in these other schools are taught, as well as their individual backgrounds and skill sets.

Second, the CIP program adds an extra educational element to the traditional consulting project model. The innovation lectures provided throughout the semester allow participants to gain tangible skills that are directly applicable to both their CIP project and other innovation-related efforts.

Finally, CIP typically focuses on innovation within established enterprises, which differs from many of the innovation and entrepreneurship offerings at Wharton that focus on start-ups and new ventures. Getting firsthand exposure to how innovation happens in actual large, successful companies is an important addition to the rest of the Penn curriculum.

Other Takeaways and Lessons

The CIP program involves real companies taking a real risk by entrusting students with one of the most important aspects of their operations: innovation. As a result, CIP isn’t something you can approach half-heartedly. The university, the Mack Institute, and your teammates all have their reputations riding on the success of the project, which often ends up being presented to executive-level leadership.

That said, if innovation is an interest to you — specifically innovation management and how the process works within industry-leading organizations — CIP is an incredibly valuable experience. It can expose you to new schools and team members, allow you to learn from the experts the Mack Institute employs and partners with, and provide you with insight into a side of innovation that is all-too-rarely explored.

Read about more students’ experiences in the Collaborative Innovation Program.

About the Author

Holden, AlanAlan Holden is currently pursuing an MBA at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is focusing on innovation strategy and entrepreneurship. Prior to business school, Alan spent four years at Deloitte Consulting, where he served as a leader within the firm’s Federal innovation strategy group and was selected for GovLab, Deloitte’s premier leadership development program and innovation think tank. Before joining Deloitte, Alan worked as a federal lobbyist on behalf of national non-profit organizations in the field of education, where he helped to launch a school improvement services practice that currently supports over a dozen schools across the United States.