Creative Solutions to Social and Business Problems


This group consists of  two courses are taken consecutively in the first year.  There are three learning goals for the two course sequence. The first is for the students to learn and practice analytic and creative problem solving skills. The second is to introduce the students to the worlds of business and social development. The third is for them to begin learning how to work in groups constructively.


The first course or the pair is about skill development.  The students will learn thinking skill, both analytic and creative.  They will learn tools to help them gather facts and define a problem and also express it in a way that is tractable to solution.  They will learn thinking tools for analyzing problems and others for generating solutions.   They will learn decision making tools for choosing among alternative solutions. They will also learn some basic behavior skills necessary to work collaboratively in groups: how to organize a problem solving team, how to communicate and interact effectively.

The second course takes the students out of the classroom.  If the students are to get the most out of their field trips and interviews with managers they need to know what questions to ask and how to ask them.    The world is not random and the first three sessions will be dedicated to “opportunity structures” and fact gathering techniques.  Opportunity structures are features of the organizational and social world that point us to areas that may be problematic and present opportunities for entrepreneurial initiative.  Opportunity structures tell us what questions to ask.  Students also need to know how to ask questions. This involves both managing an interview situation and understanding how different kinds of questions probe for different kinds of information.  Field trips to organizations will have three phases and take place over the three class sessions.  The first phase is preparatory.  It focuses on understanding the organization, its environment, its production processes, and its stakeholders in anticipation of the coming field trip.  Students will do research, as appropriate, on the social sector, industry, government policies and activities, etc. that will inform their visit, help them understand the issues, and guide their questions.

The second phase is the field trip.  Each visit will have two parts. The first will consist of a talk by an officer of the host institution, describing the institution, its activities, and the problems it faces. Problem means any recurring barrier to efficiency or effectiveness. Issues that are persistent and, could they be resolved, would lead to greater productivity, better value for the customer, better working conditions, or any improvement for any of the organization’s constituencies. These problems or issues may be on the input or supply side, be a part of the internal conversion processes, or be on the service or product deliver side of organizational processes. They may involve human or natural resources, or supplier goods. They may involve the methods of coordination and control, the organization and resources of customers and suppliers, the growth or decline in product markets. The officer will describe the problem and its context. The second part of the visit will consist of a visit to and observation of the problem or issue itself. This may involve a visit to the production floor, a customer, a supplier, a logistics partner, a management group or any place where people who are dealing with the issue are working and can be observed and interviewed.

The third phase, the week following the site visit, the students will work in a class setting. Using the information they have gained from their site visit, they will use the tools they learned the previous semester to generate solutions, evaluate solutions and present their ideas.  The last 15 minutes of each class will be devoted to reflecting on their solutions and how each of them contributed to group processes and outcomes.

Classroom Organization

To ensure behavioral learning, each student will be both a member of a group, and a part of a peer coaching dyad. In the introductory class the students will be asked to form dyads, and then these dyads will be brought together into groups of 6 (or 4) students who in subsequent classes will work together to prepare for site visits and in the classroom creative problems solving activities. The coaching dyads will meet at the end of each class session to give each other feedback following guidelines introduced in the first class.

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Title: Creative Solutions to Social and Business Problems
Date Posted: October 25, 2015
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