Scandinavian Leadership Meets Design Thinking, Service Design and Pecha Kucha

November 29, 2021

New Finland residency

Finnish cool, one-of-a-kind innovative power, and a fizzling start-up and entrepreneurship scene – a new item was just added to Global Executive MBA students’ international residency calendar, which so far included Asian and South American destinations: Finland’s capital Helsinki. The new partner university is, in fact, not new at all: WU has long had ties with Aalto University, which, also thanks to its Executive Education department Aalto EE, ranks among the leading Scandinavian universities. Participants in the new Finland residency did not only have the opportunity to acquire a wealth of expertise in design thinking and learn from unique companies in the region, they were also able to explore their creative potential as they encountered new forms of leadership and a deeply innovative business culture.

pic of a leadership workshop
Students of the Global Executive MBA on their Finland residency. Photo © Otso Alasko

Students of the current Global Executive MBA year were the first to embark on a study tour to Finland in early November. In a collaboration with colleagues of Aalto EE, the WU Executive Academy’s team spearheaded by Dean Barbara Stöttinger and Program Manager Elke Lerch organized a varied program for the MBA students complete with interactive theory sessions and study visits to twelve innovative companies in Finland.

Inspiration to Rethink Leadership Styles and Approaches to Innovation

“We have had close ties to and a close collaboration with Aalto University for a long time. We decided to offer a residency in Helsinki because of the university’s interdisciplinary approach and its strong focus on creativity and design. Helsinki’s innovative and astonishingly lively entrepreneurship scene also played its part. Our goal for this residency is to enable students to gain a comprehensive insight into how design thinking and service design enrich corporate and leadership practices in Scandinavian countries. For another, we want them to acquire creative methods for their own leadership practice, which will help them contribute to creating a rewarding corporate culture,” Barbara Stöttinger explains the rationale behind the new Finland residency as part of the WU Executive Academy’s flagship program, the Global Executive MBA.

pic of a group working in a leadership workshop
Through various workshops, students gained insights into leadership practices and how design thinking can enrich them. Photo © Otso Alasko

Students obtained basic knowledge about design thinking in online tutorials and workshops already before the trip. This enabled them to dive right into the discussions with lecturers and fellow students once they were on site.

A Close Union of Theory and Practice

In the mornings, students worked on various learning fields related to innovation and creativity. In doing so, they were encouraged to keep an eye on how contents connected to their own leadership practice. Participants heard lectures by, for instance, Fabián Sepúlveda of Aalto EE on innovation leadership, Tuomas Auvinen from the School of Art, Design and Architecture on the topic of leading creativity, and Tua Björklund and Floris van der Marel of Aalto Design Factory on the topic of design thinking.

pic of one of the leadership lecturers
Fabián Sepúlveda, one of the lecturers at the residency. Photo © Otso Alasko

The company visits scheduled in the afternoons were closely aligned with learning contents of the mornings. In small groups, students visited sustainable and innovative organizations such as Kela, the Finnish government’s social security agency, S-Group, and retail company Kesko, where meeting rooms and rest spaces were specifically designed to meet employees’ needs.

pic of a company visit
Company visit at the Finnish retail cooperative S-Group.

They also joined a virtual reality tour led by the responsible design manager through the recently opened futuristic extension building of Helsinki Airport. Students also had time to explore the city by themselves. They visited, e.g., the National Library of Finland, where they could not only enjoy themselves in music and PlayStation rooms but also encountered futuristic robots at work.

pic of a company visit
One of the company visits was at Halton.
pic of a company visit
During the Company Visit at S-Group, the students learned more about how design and creativity can be integrated into corporate concepts.

Rave Student Reviews

Portrait Adelina Shickhova

Adelina Shickhova

  • Quality Manager at Infineon Technologies AG

The company visit to S-Group was particularly helpful. I would like to thank Lauri Toivonen, the Senior Vice President Marketing of S-Group, for taking the time to show us how he makes design and creativity integral components of his corporate concepts and also explain to us what the resulting perks are. I truly appreciate tours of such carefully selected venues, which back up the theory through real-life examples.

Also David Klement, CEO and founder of CONFDNT, witnessed design thinking’s immense momentum for change. “Design thinking paves the way for innovation. That’s the case for many companies, including my own. When we visited the Finnish government agency Kela, which is in charge of all national social security programs, I realized how design thinking could contribute to successfully transforming organizations. Employing innovative strategies to develop tailor-made solutions for customers and continuously adapting them as they are implemented creates a decisive competitive edge.”

Portrait David Klement

David Klement

  • Founder and CEO of CONFDNT

A skillful application of design thinking in business contexts greatly increases the chances that innovations will pay off on the market as well.

All in all, participants were impressed by the experiences and newly minted creative knowledge gained in the course of the study trip: “Our trip to Helsinki was a great success. Not only did we acquire a systematic approach to tackling professional challenges based on design thinking, but we also gained exciting new insights into how managers can design ecosystems that are conducive to innovation,” says Rafael Gonçalves Oliveira, Global Brand Manager at Red Bull.

On the final day of the Finland residency, participants presented the week’s learnings developed in group work in a creative way: the typically Finnish Pecha Kucha presentations contained videos they had shot themselves and interactive role play.

For more information about the Global Executive MBA and its International Residencies, please click here.

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