Ivey Academy completes inaugural design thinking program

Darren Meister Design Thinking

The Ivey Academy’s first executive education program focused on design thinking was held last month at the Tangerine Leadership Centre in Toronto, Ontario. Design Thinking: Driving Innovation is a two-day open-enrolment program focused on providing participants with an experiential perspective of the design thinking process through the application and development of creative solutions.

Darren Meister, the Faculty Director for Design Thinking: Driving Innovation, has more than 30 years of experience using the design thinking method in both professional and academic settings. “The impetus for this program began when I designed a course on how to bring customer perspectives into engineering design for engineering students. It was so well-received that I began threading design thinking into some of our other programs. It’s a very sensible way to get people to think outside of their normal constraints at work,” said Meister.

Problem solving

The program is particularly relevant for leaders who have reached a certain inflection point in their business or industry. This inflection point may be when a fundamental transformational force threatens to change how customers behave and there is uncertainty regarding how to begin to confront it. Meister cites three examples of fundamental forces that can impact entire industries: shifting trade pacts, changing demographic trends, and advancements in technology. Design Thinking can be used to find a concrete path to explore new opportunities – and determine what opportunities need to be replaced. It gives a starting point to begin the journey to finding a solution.

Design thinking is also scalable in its application. While it can be used to build out a substantive project, design thinking can be particularly useful for organizations stuck in the trap of passive action – the state of doing nothing instead of doing something you think is wrong. By going through the process, design thinking gives you points to focus on that you didn't have before. In other words, not only can the design thinking process "turn a big ship around" but it can also determine the direction the ship should turn toward when floating adrift at sea.   

Real-world applicability

Many firms that practice design thinking in the market claim to offer a proprietary design thinking process. However, Design Thinking principles have developed over years of practice in universities and companies. As a member of the Global Design Thinking Association – an academic association with the goal of rigour and fidelity in design thinking – Ivey’s approach is to impart the design thinking process in the same way it is used by leading firms around the world, free from proprietary bias and corporate idiosyncrasies. At Ivey, all participants leave the program with the right to use all program materials and processes learned in class, including a workbook on how to apply design thinking in their own organizations.

Another contrast between Design Thinking: Driving Innovation and other design thinking programs is the way Ivey meshes real-world leadership with design thinking. “We ask ourselves, what do senior executives need to do to create a supportive environment for design thinking to work? What does an individual manager in an organization need to do to use this with their team? We provide a leadership perspective on design thinking to complement the technical focus,” said Meister.

Participants in the program were able to apply the entire design thinking process – from creating a customer journey map all the way to solution-testing – through an experiential assignment that utilized technology to create competitive differentiation.

“Design thinking is a great way to understand what your customers really want that you’re not trying to satisfy right now,” added Meister.

Design Thinking: Driving Innovation is currently offered as a private program.


About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Associated Faculty

Darren Meister

Darren Meister

Associate Professor, Entrepreneurship