Beth Altringer: "Ideas with Impact"
Beth Altringer is an organizational psychologist with a background in architecture and creative industries and has worked with teams in creative companies around the world. She designed ES21 to teach students practical ways to apply behavioral research and human-centered design to stimulate innovation, regardless of the students' specific field or interests. Watch the film, read how she defines innovation in her own words, and see what her students are creating.
Genuinely good ideas, and highly capable entrepreneurs, fail all the time. Like anything, innovation (or creating ideas with impact, as I broadly define it in class) takes practice and specific, learnable skills. The under-represented side of innovation is that great ideas are important, but they’re seldom enough. Today, innovation is highly interactive, taking place in teams, and teams of teams, across disciplines, cultures, and organizations.
Increasingly, your success is dependent on people choosing to interact with whatever you’ve created. Whether inside your innovation team as you’re building your project, in the eyes of potential funders and employees, or out in the market after you’ve released your idea to the world, other people will determine whether your ideas are influential or not.
For years, fields like human-computer interaction, human factors, and cognitive, organizational, and environmental psychology have explored ideas that are highly relevant to innovation, yet hands-on training that applies these insights remains relatively rare.
The Innovators' Practice is an experiential class that gives students the opportunity to develop skills in overcoming many under-represented challenges of innovation. They explore what excites them personally, create a project based on this, use behavioral methods to find problems worth solving, and create solutions that integrate into and potentially improve the lives of users. In the process, they collaborate with others across disciplines, practice leadership of unstructured projects, and present their ideas to leaders in their interest area (midterm presentations involve high-level meetings with senior industry executives).
As students develop their prototypes, they try to create impact in the real world, including planning, measuring, and reflecting on their influence. Throughout this process, in the discussion seminar, students deepen their understanding of human behavior and learn from experts about different ways successful creative teams manage to create a collaborative culture for innovation and overcome difficulties similar to what the students will experience on their own projects.
The class has a number of fantastic industry affiliates, who join each year to visit the class and meet with student teams to give feedback on their midterm progress. They play an important role in motivating the students and supporting the real-world mission of the course.
Read more about Professor Altringer, the class, her group, and student ideas that have emerged from the class (both those in development and those seeking partners). For ways to support innovation at Harvard, visit Ways to Give.
Video produced and edited by Marlon Kuzmick, the Bok Center Multimedia team, and Shelley Westover.