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Last month, the MMM Innovation Council visited campus for its annual meeting, giving us the unique chance to connect with council members and gain their perspectives on how innovation is shaping today’s business world.

The MMM Innovation Council is a group of business innovation leaders, many of whom are alumni of Kellogg’s MMM Program. The council meets annually to provide feedback to the program and to encourage positive interactions between the design innovation industry and academia. Council members are also closely involved in providing career guidance for MMM students and raising support for the program through means such as Integration Project sponsorships.

During the council’s visit, MMM students had the opportunity to attend a small-group dinner and panel discussion to ask questions about all things innovation.

At dinner, each student had the chance to sit with one MMM Innovation Council member. We both chose to dine with Chad Kartchner ’10 in order to understand how design thinking is applied at a traditional manufacturing firm. As a Marketing and Product Manager at Honeywell Aerospace, Chad manages an especially unique incubator.

It was initially surprising to hear Chad describe his work focus as “mobile apps for aerospace.” He went on to explain that pilots on noncommercial flights are starting to use iPad applications as navigation devices. Everything he learned about disruptive innovation as an MMM student was playing out in the aerospace field, where a low value entrant was disrupting the market.

During the panel discussion that followed, we explored how innovation and design takes shape in the business world. Kathleen Brandenburg, founder and chief design strategy officer of IA Collaborative, discussed the importance of systemic thinking, which requires business leaders to maintain a perspective of the system as a whole. Kathleen’s emphasis on systematic thinking brought to mind the importance of ecosystem-wide innovation – a concept that was drilled into our minds during Innovation Frontiers, an MMM class taught by Larry Keeley, president and co-founder of Doblin.

Another eye-opening insight came from Anthony Pannozzo, executive creative director of frog, who defined design thinking as if he were describing it at a cocktail party. “Design thinking involves three basic factors: Developing empathy with others, using the empathy to frame a problem and relentlessly experimenting to create feedback loops and solve the problem.” This simple yet eloquent definition perfectly summarizes the core of what we learn as MMM students.

Overall, exploring the power of innovation in a small-group setting with a diverse panel of industry experts was truly a unique opportunity. The experience reinforced design innovation’s influence in the business world, and equally important, our personal passion for design innovation.

 Ramya Sethurathinam is a first-year student in Kellogg’s MMM Program. Prior to Kellogg, she worked in the energy industry as a mechanical designer in Singapore.

 Ahalya Vijay is a first-year student in Kellogg’s MMM Program and the McCormick School of Engineering. Prior to Kellogg, she did economic development work with the South African government and strategy and operations consulting in the U.S. and Canada.