Over the three years the course has been taught, nine faculty from the three disciplines have participated. Weekly faculty meetings during the semester along with many preparatory meetings provided time for faculty to learn about how collaboration and innovation were approached by each discipline and to synthesize frameworks used in the class to integrate the various pedagogical and disciplinary practices. The following two sections describe the two frameworks in which the class is now grounded and relevant theoretical underpinnings. The first framework describes innovation as a learning process, which provided space for the integration of discipline-specific approaches to innovation, design, and creative work; the second framework overlays development of leadership skills in the dimensions of inner, other, and outer focus on that learning model.
2.2.1. Innovation Cycle
The first framework now used in Collaborative Innovation
) integrates experiential learning theory [20
] and design [21
] to depict innovation as a learning process [22
]. In learning, as individuals or as teams, we toggle between being present in the concrete world (concrete experience) and being in our heads (abstract conceptualization). We further toggle between reflective observation, or analysis work, and active experimentation, or synthesis work [23
]. The four quadrants formed by this learning framework highlight the four core categories of mindsets, skillsets and toolsets associated with design or innovation (and more broadly with problem framing and solving).
Observing and noticing
happen at the intersection of concrete experience and reflective observation. Observing and noticing
are tightly intertwined with framing and reframing
in a process deeply examined in the sensemaking literature. “Sensemaking is a motivated, continuous effort to understand connections…in order to anticipate their trajectories and act effectively” [24
] (p. 71). The creation and appreciation of meaning or sensemaking is a “definitional property of a cognitive system” [25
] (p. 488). Meaning-making systems from an arts-based perspective honor diverse ways of knowing—personal, narrative, embodied, artistic, and aesthetic—that often stand outside sanctioned intellectual frameworks [26
]. These approaches often stand in sharp contrast to the rational–analytical–logical systems employed in business [12
Observing and noticing
require letting go of assumptions and looking at objects, people, and situations from multiple perspectives. While business students are often taught to rely on critical and analytical methods for observing and noticing [27
], in arts education, students often learn how to see the world through a variety of senses, mediums, and perspectives [28
]. Physical interaction with the concrete world, emphasized in both theater and art practice, is a way to critically engage with it [26
]. Movement, as taught through theater and dance, is core to sensemaking and considered an important element of cognition [25
Observing and noticing
can be developed at both the individual and the team levels [25
]. The challenge for teams is that as social complexity increases, individuals on the team shift from perceptually-based knowing to categorically-based knowing to make coordination and communication simpler. Imagine, for example, writing an entire paper without using any conjugation of “to be”. Rather than describe someone as drunk, for example, thicker description of the person’s appearance or behavior would be required, moving closer to the concrete experience of the person [1
]. Arts-based projective techniques are one means of engaging a team in conversation such that intellectual and emotional connection to a topic at hand are retained [29
], facilitating better sensemaking.
Framing and reframing
happen at the intersection of reflective observation and abstract conceptualization and are tightly intertwined with observing and noticing
. There are three intersecting means of making sense of the barrage of physical, social and symbolic stimuli in a complex environment. First, as individuals, we interpret stimuli based upon our own experiences and personal mythologies, and then project our interpretations onto the world. Because this is usually unconsciously done, it often reflects more about us than about the broader world. The second approach, practiced widely in the business world, invokes science and analytic reasoning in which stimuli are reduced to numbers and then to trends and causal relationships upon which action can be taken. The third approach characterizes art-based sensemaking in which careful attention is paid to stimuli by listening deeply with the whole self for meaning. That meaning is then represented in an artistic form that retains and represents the essence of the complexity of the original environment [10
]. This representation provides a more nuanced view of the differences between business and arts-based approaches and implies both the possibilities and challenges of helping students learn to integrate them. The ability to retain the essence of complexity while anchoring in a problem frame is critical to teams as they move to the problem-solving half of the innovation cycle.
Imagining and designing
happen at the intersection of abstract conceptualization and active experimentation and often in a highly iterative fashion with making and experimenting
as individuals or teams come up with ideas and then bring them alive. In the business sphere, “managers need creativity interventions that avoid both the risk of premature closure (myopia) as well as unlimited opening up (confusion), that balance an orientation to exploitation with exploration, as well as foolishness with reason” [30
] (p. 355). There is a tendency in business classes to praise imaginative processes that preference the use of language and abstraction while in arts-based classes there is a tendency to praise students who can visualize ideas easily and readily manifest them in material forms. A wide range of arts-based tools for imagining and designing engage the entire self in envisioning alternative futures [31
]. By imagining and designing
across disciplinary boundaries in Collaborative Innovation
, students learn to see how their peers think and then how and when different approaches to imagining and designing
Making and experimenting
happen at the intersection of active experimentation and concrete experience. In this quadrant, the concepts conceived in imagining and designing
are brought alive and shared with others to generate reactions. In groups of business people, there can be deep-seated resistance to engaging in art forms in which they believe they have limited ability, and it can be hard to engage them in making [29
]. The ability to bring concepts alive benefits businesses not only in letting them test ideas with potential customers, but also in learning more about themselves as an organization [33
]. There are many methods for bringing ideas alive that are often associated with new product or service design and development [34
]. A variety of modes of experimentation are finding their way into business as well [35
], although the notion of failure continues to be challenging [36
]. Arts-based students, on the other hand, are afforded leeway to experiment, test, hack, break, and speculate about alternative modes of being. In art-based disciplines, “…a student’s job is to test assumptions, make mistakes, and question everything, free from the confines of corporate or institutional protocol. Being a student demands humility and assurance that one’s work can founder or collapse without an impact on the bottom line” [37
] (p. 35).
The discipline-independent learning process represented by this framework facilitated conversations about the different mindsets, skillsets and toolsets each discipline brought to the class and allowed faculty to discuss differences both among themselves and openly with students, while at the same time having a shared baseline. This in turn opened opportunities for students to explicitly identify their own preferences for how to engage with the innovation cycle, and to have meaningful conversations with their teammates about their differences and how they might usefully be reconciled to achieve their shared project outcomes. Each of the six innovation activities in which the students participated during the semester led the students through this innovation cycle or learning process, and students were encouraged to regularly reflect on where they were in the cycle as a team, and where they thought they needed to go next. This allowed for explicit attention to problem framing and solving approaches and thus to mindset, skillset and toolset development among the students.
2.2.2. Inner, Other, Outer
The second framework the course faculty found useful in integrating the three disciplines identifies three modes of attention employed by successful leaders: inner, other and outer focus [38
]. Inner focus
entails paying careful attention to internal physiological signals that inform understanding of the self and employing cognitive control which permits pursuing goals despite setbacks and distractions. Other focus
develops cognitive and emotional empathy for others and social sensitivity to identify what others need. Outer focus
drives exploration of the broader system in which one works, often facilitating discovery of unexpected connections.
appears often in descriptions of the integration of arts and business curricula. College “is a prime moment for students, including many older students, to question and redefine their core sense of who they are” [39
] (p. 4). A frequently-mentioned benefit of integrated courses is that they allow students to explore themselves as individuals including their personalities, aspirations, and contemplation of their callings [2
]. Reflection on experiences helps students connect to their academic work, what they are learning about themselves and others, and what they would like to learn in the future [40
]. Arts-based projective techniques and making, using a variety of art forms [32
], are an effective means of exploration and discovery about self as well as about others [29
Much of the exploration of inner came through exercises run by theater/dance and art practice faculty, perhaps due to the “making” nature of both disciplines. “The premise underneath the making process is that the act of making art can foster a deep experience of personal presence and connection. …[this can] help to develop a sense of personal authenticity that can be the foundation of authentic leadership” [29
] (p. 64). The business representation of inner focus was more abstract—words describing the brain science of self-awareness [38
], and was less easily internalized and immediately practiced by students.
appears in the business literature around developing empathy for customers (e.g., [41
]), largely through observation and interviewing [42
], and developing relationships with colleagues [44
]. In the arts, other focus is explicitly developed through projective techniques as well as illustration of essence using artifacts that embody universally recognized qualities, situations or ways of being to which people can relate personally [29
]. Understanding of a student’s own inner experience is crucial to allowing them to question and empathize with the inner experience of others (other focus). Without focus on the other’s inner experience, innovation can lead to inappropriate and potentially even harmful effects. “Audiences are never ‘others’—they are always very concrete selves” [19
] (p. 23).
In Collaborative Innovation
, students toggled regularly between inner and other focus as a means of learning about both themselves and their peers. In part, this was facilitated by explicit focus by faculty on developing teaming [44
] capabilities among the students. Students started their projects with conversations about shared goals, roles, team process and how they could meaningfully leverage the diversity in experiences present on their teams. They checked in periodically on these topics and made needed adjustments on the longer projects. Teaming assessments administered at the end of each project allowed students to make real-time changes to their individual behaviors as well as to their team interactions.
As complexity increases, systems understanding and creation of fluid, networked organizations will become increasingly important thus making outer focus
particularly relevant today. Adaptability, resilience and tolerance for both uncertainty and ambiguity are required to live and work in a world of complexity [45
]. A rich business literature on systems modeling provides analytical approaches to mapping the interactions among entities in a system, including simulating systems dynamics [46
] as a means of developing outer focus. Socially Engaged Art positions itself at the nexus of these complexities by offering disciplinary flexibility to navigate the contradictory needs and experiences of our contemporary moment. In particular, “socially engaged art functions by attaching itself to subjects and problems that normally belong to other disciplines, moving them temporarily into a space of ambiguity. It is this temporary snatching away of subjects into the realm of art-making that brings new insights to a particular problem or condition and in turn makes it visible to other disciplines” [19
] (p. 5).
Other focus was brought alive for students in Collaborative Innovation primarily through the problems they tackled in their team projects. Starting with the Art Practice project, students took on meaty and challenging issues such as drug abuse, sexual assault and loneliness that forced them, through research and discussions with others in and outside of the class, to examine the dynamics of the systems surrounding these issues. They learned various approaches to modeling systems, identifying the enablers and inhibitors of change in those systems, that allowed them to bring the problem space alive, create meaningful discussions around the space, and ultimately to imagine ways in which they might intervene in the system to make change.
The course faculty found development of inner, other and outer focus a compelling means of presenting materials to the students in Collaborative Innovation, of integrating elements of each practice, and of integrating across practices. In theater, dance and performance, for example, inner–other–outer balance plays an important role in character development, storytelling, stage blocking and choreographic choices, and bodily expression. Thus, as students learned the basics of constructing a performance, they physically enacted both the innovation cycle and the experience of inner, other and outer focus. In their art practice work, they captured the complexity of significant societal problems in physical artifacts that generated thoughtful discussion. In business design, they embedded understanding of others in product and business model (systems) design.
After using the two models independently for a couple of years, the course faculty recognized the deep relationship between them, as depicted in Figure 2
. Applying the innovation cycle to development of inner focus allowed students to observe themselves, reframe mental models they held about themselves, imagine new ways of being, and then test those new ways on others. An other-focused innovation cycle maps best to human-centered design (or what is popularly called design thinking today) in which others, such as customers or users, are observed, insights are garnered to frame an opportunity to help those others, solutions are imagined and then prototypes are built to test the ideas. Outer-focused innovation leverages an understanding of complex systems and institutions often providing context for design for inner and other.
The interactions among inner–other–outer played out throughout the semester in Collaborative Innovation. Students start the semester by introducing themselves in an online discussion format, sharing where they come from, experiences that have been important to them in their lives, what they are passionate about and anything else they think might interest their classmates. These personal introductions, even though online and in a class of more than seventy students, set the stage for deep interpersonal engagement and learning throughout the semester. Students subsequently share an object that means something to them, identify issues about which they are passionate, write about where they come from, and finally reflect on their learning from their initial introductions to the end of the class. As they move through the materials, they observe and notice themselves, frame and reframe where they see their fit in the world, imagine new ways of positioning themselves and experiment, often during in-class presentations, with those new positions.
An important learning for the course faculty was the importance of the interactions among inner, other and outer for student development and personal growth. For example, students explored themes related to their inner experiences and world-views through facilitated constructive interactions with others and ultimately the creation of a dance/theater performance and an art sculpture. Through these creative explorations, made in diverse teams engaging with each other’s experiences and personal stories, students developed a better sense of the outer world. Thus, it became clear that the innovation cycle provided the basic tools and structure and was brought alive for the students as they toggled among inner, other and outer foci in an iterative process moving through the innovation cycle. This learning is represented in the following analysis of student reflections about the class.