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MBA shifts towards art and design

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Creativity and business are two words that don’t often appear together, but a new movement to combine design and business degrees is gathering momentum. The need for innovation and creative vision is not just the realm of artists, but also in business, where global competition and challenging economic times calls for thinking outside the corporate box.

Although big corporations claim to value creativity, they don’t often consider candidates with backgrounds in visual arts for job opportunities. The traditional thinking is that creative or fine arts skills are incompatible with business. But that perception is starting to change, and universities are joining forces with art schools to challenge this way of thinking.

The combination of left-brain and right-brain skills are the key to innovation and the future of business

The pioneer of this concept was the California College of the Arts, which created an MBA in Design Strategy in 2008. The programme aims to take the design thinking process and apply it to a range of challenges to create innovative solutions. While business people can easily sit in boardrooms talking in circles, designers have a unique ability to communicate information and ideas visually. A picture speaks a thousand words after all, and design is an international language. The CCA's degree programme has doubled from 60 to 120 students in two years, and most alumni get jobs in design-oriented consulting companies. Despite the difficult economy, a diverse range of companies are looking for professionals that can lead innovation. Other universities that have joined this movement of design-focused business programmes include MICA, which partnered with Johns Hopkins University's Carey Business School to launch a joint MA-MBA in Design Leadership in 2012. The Illinois Institute of Technology has a Master of Design MBA. Stanford University’s Design School created in 2005, doesn't offer degrees, but according to the school, there's been growing interest in multidisciplinary education from MBA students.

Companies have always tried to be innovative, but the current trend represents a new emphasis on right brain processes. While many of the tasks associated with logical, left brain processes are now automated and done by computers, it’s time to rethink our priorities. This is the message conveyed by author Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind. He says that the Master of Fine Arts or MFA, is the new MBA, and hopes the alchemy of mixing business people and designers will lead to greater innovation. Big corporations like General Motors, are also hiring creative professionals to rethink their product development strategies.

Now more than ever, creative thinking is a necessary requirement of business survival and success. While not everyone has natural creative talent, it makes sense to collaborate and combine energies with those who do. Universities and corporations are starting to recognise that the combination of left-brain and right-brain skills are the key to innovation and the future of business.   

*Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon /

Assiye Keskin

Assiye Keskin is a freelance writer, researcher, and media analyst with extensive experience in international education and intercultural communication.

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