Beyond D-School: Innovation is a C-word

Beyond D-School: Innovation is a C-word

The hallmark of the creative artist to create something that did not exist before, a painting, a sculpture, or an idea. This generative capacity is not limited to artists: entrepreneurs and corporations conceive and create new products, services and platforms that would not have existed all the time. Our complex and volatile world needs this creative ability now more than ever, especially in our leaders.


So how well do we understand this ability? What competencies are required? Is the best training ground in Business or Design school? Maybe it is a school where creativity and C-suite leadership blend, a C-school. A place of learning that develops creative leadership and the innovative enterprise design in entrepreneurs and corporates, with leaders from the private, public, and social sectors.


Understanding creative leadership means understanding creativity. Few of us create alone today. As Keith Sawyer shows in Group Genius, there is a persistent myth of the lone inventor, one great genius slaving away in obscurity. But this is, indeed, a myth. Innovation usually comes from group interaction, from cross-fertilization between team-members and from rapid feedback cycles. Creativity happens in teams. As Pixar Animation Studios President Ed Catmull points out, the team is even more important than the idea. A great team will either turn a mediocre idea into a great movie or jettison it, but a mediocre team will waste a great idea (Ed Catmull, How Pixar fosters collective creativity). A great team can start with an average idea and be creative on the way, changing it as they go along.


Innovation combines the concept for a new product, service or business (Innovative Enterprise) and the team behind it, led by a powerful leader (Creative Leadership). These two major elements begin by the genesis an innovative concept and describing it. Realization consists in giving birth to this idea in the form of an enterprise.


At THNK, the enterprise concept is developed in the Creation Flow, a cycle which consists of Sensing, Visioning, Prototyping, and Scaling.

The creation stage is a flow

At THNK this enterprise concept is developed in the Creation Flow, a cycle which consists of Sensing, VisioningPrototyping, and Scaling. Sensing consists of a wide exploration of the topic, combining rational analysis with an intuitive and associative process of gathering insights. This includes observing the user in their natural habitat, rethinking one’s assumptions and engaging with the user. The Visioning phase consists of reframing the issue and ideating a new concept that is distinct, bold, and appealing, through synthesis, visualization and articulation. The Prototyping phase centers on repeated experimentation, user testing and feedback with the aim of testing one’s assumptions to improve the concept.

Scaling, the final phase, is about designing for scalability. Scalability means different things in different contexts. Scalability at the individual level is the ability to have impact beyond one’s own reach. At the organizational level, it is an idea that spreads quickly and gets adopted by many. At the enterprise level, it is a concept that can be multiplied at little or no additional cost.

Creative leadership aims for a concept to be designed for maximum potential scale. These are often concepts that are digital/online as much as possible. Scalable concepts are based on do-it-yourself tools: selling recipes is more scalable than running a restaurant. Scalable concepts are based on viral marketing and advocacy instead of advertising. Scalability translates directly into business performance. The most precious case of a scalable concept is one that feeds on itself over time. A commerce platform – stock exchange, online market place, buying cooperation – offers ever better deals when it attracts more volume and members.

The C-school approach

How does a C-School differ from a B-school or a D-school? A Business school focuses on management excellence. A Design school focuses on product design. A C-school, in contrast, focuses on innovation excellence and on business model design. It spends significant time on creative leadership development and promotes a highly entrepreneurial mindset. THNK is a C-school. Our executive program brings together a diverse group of leaders who learn by working on big societal challenges and also accelerate an innovation project of their own.

Faculty and THNK Partner Rajiv Ball describes what makes THNK’s framework unique.

C-schools also include elements of Architecture schools, Engineering schools and Technology institutes. One role model of innovation leadership is the architect Ben van Berkel, a THNK Advisory Board member and visiting faculty. He combines the aesthetic sensibility of making stunning landmark buildings with a deep understanding of the scientific approach, modelling people flows and usage data. Inspiration and understanding go hand in hand.

THNK supports innovation leadership in strengthening the competencies needed to generate new ideas and turn them into a viable start-up or innovative company project. The Creative Leadership Program accelerates the development of innovative ideas and the creative process of making them happen in the world. This is our way of responding to today’s needs by making use of today’s opportunities, and contribute to changing the world.

Want to learn to innovate at the world’s top C-School? Apply to join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.