Summary by Mary Deelsnyder, CEO & Creative Director, Dee Design Co., and past AIGA Minnesota board member

Yale Class Photo

I recently completed an executive education course at the Yale School of Management called “Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.” A program developed in partnership with AIGA, it’s one of the best things I’ve done for my business; I learned so much. I want to share three themes I took away from the experience; they are relevant to all creative leaders working today.

1. Innovation isn’t always technological.

As designers, we focus our empathy on the end user of the product or experience we’re designing and not on the business model needed. In order to bring about broad change, business model innovation is essential.

A case we studied was the healthcare delivery model for patients with diabetes. That healthcare business model is currently organized to fix patients. If you are sick, you go to the doctor and they “fix” it. However, diabetes is a disease that can’t be fixed — it has to be managed. Hence, the current healthcare business model can’t appropriately serve diabetes patients. To remedy this situation, designers working in healthcare need to fully understand the big picture, discern how healthcare should change, and propose a different business model behind it.

2. Get closer to understanding business and money.

One of my favorite sessions was accounting. I was entertained by the professor who admitted that some of the highest profile white-collar criminals were once his students at Harvard Business School, including former CEO of Enron, Jeffrey Skilling I’m sure that’s not how the professor wants to be known, but it was a great lead-in to teach us how to interpret financial statements and look for potential fraud.

Even as designers, it’s important for us to be close to the numbers and understand what they say about a company. Research by Dan Ariely suggests that the farther you are from the money, the potential for you to cheat — or accept cheating as the social norm — is high.

When you understand the numbers, you’re less likely to be complicit with bad behavior. So dig in, ask questions, and read about business as much as you can because we need more designers at leadership levels of companies.

3. Vulnerability is hard.

Studies show that vulnerable leaders are great leaders. Showing vulnerability at work doesn’t mean removing boundaries. It simply means revealing more about yourself to increase trust with your colleagues.

We did a few exercises including psychologist Arthur Aron’s 36 questions This was really difficult to do with strangers, but I found myself caring a lot about these people once I knew personal things about them. Plus, it was more interesting than the usual “resume review” that we do when we first meet someone at a professional event.

Not only do we as designers need to be more vulnerable, we need to help our clients do it. Vulnerability is part of the whole concept of being honest, which is what today’s brands are missing. Too much time is spent trying to “figure out” what our customers want us to be. Being who you are as an individual or a brand enables people to trust you, as suggested by Simon Sinek.

So many other great lectures and debates took place during the program, but these three topics stood out. The week at Yale was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences in my professional career. If you ever have the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend it.

Watch for promotion of the 2016 AIGA Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders program here


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Jhoselin Dominguez
Jhoselin Dominguez
Associate Director, Communications
I am a graphic designer from Kansas currently living in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. I graduated May of 2019 from Fort Hays State University with a B.F.A in Graphic Design. My hobbies include writing short stories, riding my longboard, and playing the piano.