A great article on Fast Company highlights the need for both business and design skills when faced with tough business challenges: What Both MBAs And MFAs Get Wrong About Solving Business Problems, by Melissa Quinn.

Article outline: Numbers and bullet points aren’t the only things driving executive decision making. And pretty pictures won’t get you there either. Both designers and MBAs have a lot to learn.

Toronto University’s Rotman School of Management has run a design challenge geared at exposing MBA students to the value of design methods in business problem solving. For the past 2 years, the MBAs (Masters of Business Administration) have been trounced by the MFAs (Masters of Fine Arts). How?

With only 15 minutes to convince a skeptical panel of experienced professionals about a new idea that doesn’t exist in the world today, [MFAs] fared significantly better than their MBA counterparts. Why? Because they shared real user insights to engage us emotionally, used narrative and stories to compel us, drew sketches and visualizations to inspire us, and simplified the complex to focus us. It’s proof positive that numbers and bullet points, while important, aren’t necessarily what drive executive decision making

The key message – don’t assume you can teach MBAs to do this stuff well by chucking in a couple of modules as part of their course. Don’t dismiss the years of study that designers undertake to develop these skills.

That said, it wasn’t an entirely happy ending for the MFAs either.

While design students fared much better than their MBA counterparts that Saturday afternoon, I should point out that only the winning team from the Institute of Design at IIT actually charged a fee for the service they developed (a fact that was not overlooked by my final-round co-judge Ray Chun, the senior vice president of retail banking at TD). Some competitors were able to offer a vague notion that their ideas would generally create economic value, but crisp articulations of a profit model and underlying assumptions were hard to come by.

A great article, worth a read. Particularly if you tend to rely on bullet points more than visuals in PowerPoint to explain something you want people to remember. (Side note: but does depend on the type and purpose of presentation. If teaching a technical topic, screenshots and bullet points are usually quite helpful after the event.)

p.s. The image at the top? A book shelf in my home office, containing some of the books that continue to help develop presentations. Story boarding for films has been the latest new topic of study. :-) (Half of those books are in Kindle-only format… times change.)

As a good mentor Nicholas Bate likes to say – ‘Always be learning’.

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