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

Below are just a few of the sessions you’ll attend as part of the program.

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.

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.

Scaling Up Excellence
Scaling Up Excellence
The faculty directors for Customer-Focused Innovation reveal how the best leaders and teams develop, spread, and instill the right mindsets in their people — rather than ruining or watering down the very things that have fueled successful growth in the past.


Akniet Rysbek
Associate Director, Programs Executive Education