Customer-Focused Innovation

Stanford Graduate School of Business

How long?

  • 6 days
  • in person

Stanford Graduate School of Business


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Who should attend

  • C-level and senior executives who are leading and directing teams that are charged with planning and implementing innovation programs — from any size company, any industry, and any country
  • Executives with responsibility for research and development, product design and development, new business development, marketing, or brand management
  • Due to the goals of this program, it is not appropriate for consultants or for those who work for consulting agencies or design firms

About the course

Learn about cutting-edge social science frameworks and design thinking techniques in a unique partnership between Stanford GSB and

Clean models. Dirty hands. Customer-Focused Innovation is the perfect blend of theory and practice, strategy and innovation — an opportunity to flex both your business and your creative muscles. At Stanford, we teach innovation as a mindset, not a project.

Every morning, you’ll learn about strategic frameworks and models based on cutting-edge research from Stanford’s world-renowned GSB faculty. You’ll learn how to better understand customer experiences, develop deeper customer insights, and diffuse customer learning throughout the organization. You’ll discuss strategies for reducing the knowing-doing gap and building a customer-centric culture.

Every afternoon, you’ll work in small teams with faculty members and trained coaches from the on a real-world innovation challenge from an outside company. Design thinking’s user-centered, prototype-driven process will teach you how to interview and observe customers in the field to understand what motivates them.

Key Benefits

Create a customer-centric organization using design thinking, and develop strategies to reduce bureaucratic processes and support innovation.

  • Observe and understand the needs of customers, develop fast experiments and prototypes with users, and develop prediction markets.
  • Gain cutting-edge insights about the sources of customer satisfaction and brand personality.
  • Create a culture of innovation that harnesses the creativity of your customers and employees.


How can you create a culture of innovation using design thinking? How do you scale up excellence? Customer-Focused Innovation shows you how by combining cutting-edge social science frameworks with design thinking tools and techniques.

The program is offered through a unique partnership between Stanford GSB and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, also called the And it happens only at Stanford, at the epicenter of innovation.

Program Highlights

Field Research Project: Enhancing the Customer Experience

At the heart of Customer-Focused Innovation is a field research project that gives you the opportunity to learn design thinking by doing. Working in small teams, you’ll tackle a real-world business challenge presented by an outside company — an airline, a hotel, a gas station, etc. You and your team will collaborate with this company to enhance the customer experience by:

  • Interviewing key management and personnel.
  • Observing and interviewing customers in the field.
  • Ideating, designing, prototyping, and iterating to develop new solutions.

Then you’ll present your innovative ideas to company management. There’s no better way to practice what we teach.

Rapid Prototyping

You’ll learn about the logic and methods of rapid prototyping to develop quick solutions to customer service problems that can be easily tested and refined. After completing observations and brainstorming exercises, teams will work with staff to select the most promising ideas and to develop and present proposals about how these prototype experiences could be quickly implemented.

Systematic Understanding of Customer Preferences

This session will focus on a systematic understanding of customer preferences, expressed in terms of the relative importance of multiple attributes or features of the product or service.

Scaling Up Excellence

Best-selling author Robert Sutton and his Stanford colleague Hayagreeva “Huggy” Rao devoted seven years to studying how the best leaders and teams spread constructive beliefs, behaviors, and practices from those who have them to those who need them. They show what it takes to spread a mindset, not just a footprint, as a program or organization expands.

Organizations that are most able to adapt are most able to survive. Perry Klebahn, Consulting Associate Professor

Their insights are based on diverse case studies, hundreds of interviews with scaling veterans, and rigorous academic studies of organizations including Facebook, Google, Pixar, Joie de Vivre hotels, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Girl Scouts, Rocketship charter schools,, IKEA, IDEO, U.S. Marines combat teams, JetBlue Airways, General Electric, NASCAR pit crews at Hendricks Motorsports, and recent startups such as Pulse News and Bridge International Academies.

Designing for the Human Brain

Design and innovation require people to be effective at discovery — unearthing and crafting value for the solutions being sought. The challenge is that while the human brain is most developed compared to that of any other species, especially in terms of the cognitive functions that it can carry out, a substantial proportion of human decisions and actions are shaped by basic instinctual systems and processes that are not only automatic but also often nonconscious.

The purpose of these two sessions is twofold. The first is enable you to gain a rich understanding of the workings of the instinctual brain. The second is to help you leverage this understanding in order to be effective at discovery and design, unearthing solutions that the instinctual brain seeks, and crafting value propositions for these instinctual solutions.


Jeffrey Pfeffer

Research Statement Jeffrey Pfeffer has published extensively in the fields of organization theory and human resource management. His current research focuses on the relationship between time and money, power and leadership in organizations, economics language and assumptions and their effects on ...

Hayagreeva Rao

Research Statement Professor Rao studies collective action within organizations and in markets. His research and by implication, his teaching, revolves around scaling up mobilization, innovation, and talent in organizations. Teaching Statement Professor Rao teaches courses on Scaling up Excellenc...

Baba Shiv

Research Statement Baba Shiv's research expertise is in the area of neuroeconomics, with specific emphasis on the role of neural structures related to emotion and motivation in shaping decisions and experiences. His recent work examines the interplay of the brain’s "liking" and "wanting" systems ...

Jennifer Aaker

Research Interests Time, Money and Happiness The Power of Story Global Brand Building Emotions, Goals and Health The Psychology of Giving Bio Dr. Jennifer Aaker is a behavioral psychologist, author, and the General Atlantic Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Her research focuses...

Robert Sutton

Research Statement Robert Sutton focuses on evidence-based management, the links (and gaps) between managerial knowledge and organizational action, innovation, and organizational performance. His research style emphasizes the development of theory and recommendations for practice on the basis of ...

Perry Klebahn

Perry Klebahn is a true entrepreneur and innovator. He is also a natural teacher and a co-founding member of the faculty at the Perry received his master’s from Stanford in the Product Design program in 1991 and left with his master’s thesis in hand–a high performance snowshoe (yes a s...

Jeremy Utley

Jeremy was using the principles of design thinking long before he encountered the From starting a small-venture incubator in Bolivia to hanging out in biker bars to evaluate acquisition targets for clients of the Boston Consulting Group, Jeremy has sought to meld his analytical nature ...

Charles O'reilly

Research Statement Professor O’Reilly’s research spans studies of leadership, organizational demography and diversity, culture, executive compensation and organizational innovation and change. Teaching Statement Professor O’Reilly has taught courses for MBAs and executives in organizational innov...

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