Furman offers Customer-Centric Innovation program to Upstate

The three-day program teaches participants to use design-thinking methods to more quickly ideate, test and execute ideas with the customer in mind.

The three-day program teaches participants to use design-thinking methods to more quickly ideate, test and execute ideas with the customer in mind.

To help organizational leaders adapt to the new speed of innovation, the Center for Corporate and Professional Development at Furman has created “Customer-Centric Innovation,” a three-day program offered April 21-23, in the Thomas Anderson Roe Art Building on Furman’s campus.

Innovation moves at the speed of ideas, and increasingly, ideas in the business world are driven by customers – what they want and need, even if they don’t know it yet. To meet customer demands, or to create them, organizations need to move quickly and with the customer in mind.

“Gone are the days when innovation is a mandate reserved for marketing or R&D managers,” says Anthony Herrera, executive director of Furman University’s Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “Now, the pressure is on everyone to create growth and innovation.” The program, Herrera says, "will teach participants to use design-thinking methods to more quickly ideate, test and execute ideas with the customer in mind."

The program is the first of many that will combine experts in design thinking with Furman professors who will teach related topics, such as neuroscience, communication, art and philosophy. They’re aimed at managers and senior leaders from a variety of organizations, from K-12 education to health care to the automotive industry. Herrera alluded to the programs in this July 23, 2019 op-ed.

The Customer-Centric Innovation program will be led by Kenneth Fields, Johannes Mutzke and Ross McClain. Fields, a 1998 Furman graduate, and Mutzke met while working at Michelin and started their own consulting business, BlueInc Strategies. They have worked with both the Stanford dSchool and IDEO as they developed their design-thinking expertise. McClain, a specialist in strategic design, is chair of the art department at Furman.

“Design thinking teaches people to think like a kid again,” says Fields. “A kid who’s learning how to ride a bike is going to play around with it, they’re going to fall and they’re going to try again. We want people to think like that with their customers in mind.”

Fields and Mutzke will lead people in identifying new ideas for their organizations and coming up with prototypes, “pipe cleaners and construction paper stuff,” Fields says. They’ll get feedback quickly to move the design closer to what a customer might want.

“In the training, we very quickly take people where they wouldn’t have intentionally gone and have them talk with someone they might not typically have talked to,” Fields says. “It’s going to be challenging and uncomfortable at times, but they’re going to grow, then they’re going to teach other people to grow.”

The program will begin each day at 8:30 a.m. with presentations by Furman faculty. McClain will present “Why 5-Year-Olds Make the Best CEOs: Learning How to Play Again.” Onarae Rice, an associate professor in psychology and neuroscience, will present “The Science of Empathy: Your Brain on Change.” Aaron Simmons, an associate professor in philosophy, will present “The Virtues of Innovation: Trust, Hope and Risk.” Cynthia King, professor and chair of communication studies, will present “Communicating Change: How to Invite Others into the Pool.”

Fields and Mutzke will lead afternoon sessions that put theory into motion with practical exercises based on design thinking.

“Furman’s unique perspective on a liberal arts and sciences education combined with its focus on applied learning makes it the perfect place to learn how to think innovatively,” Fields says. And, he adds, “being on a university campus – as opposed to a corporate setting – changes your way of thinking. We want people to come with an open mind and a cross-functional attitude; ready to learn and work across boundaries in a way that will have both an impact for your organization and for you personally.”

The program cost, $3,995, includes lunch and a closing reception.

For more information, contact Sam Tisdale, director, Center for Corporate and Professional Development, at sam.tisdale@furman.edu, and 864-294-2156.


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