A gratifying part of business school is the realization that your “great ideas” can become useful, tangible, and (hopefully) profitable products. MBA students are often pigeonholed with the reputation of having marginally-sociopathic financial motivations. Counter to this, however, is the reality that for every human desire and tendency, there is a business opportunity waiting to be explored and created. This is the basis for Dave Owens’ popular class, “New Product Design and Development”.
This spring, 25 or so MBA students, along with a smattering of senior students from Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering, are working with Oreck Corporation to create a home-cleaning solution that deviates from Oreck’s typical product offering. Professor Owens provides a foundation of learning, in which students explore some of the research techniques used to gather insights into consumer behavior. Many of the best innovations are inspired through observation of the daily tasks that we all do every day, and the subsequent products that make those tasks easier. Ergonomic office chairs, easy-to-read measuring cups, and ketchup packets you can dip your fries in—these products all began with an “a ha!” moment that inspired a designer.
Along with the elemental study of product development and research, students in Owens’ class are working toward developing a physical prototype for a new Oreck product. Groups of five students were teamed up this week, and met with leaders from Oreck—including CEO Doug Cahill and Product Innovation Engineer Paul Moshenrose—to swap ideas and strategies for how a new product should perform and appear. In these early stages of product development, no idea is too eccentric for consideration, and free-thinking the approach de rigueur. These conversations extend well past the class sessions and are continued over pitchers of Yazoo Black Lager (Yazoo podcast).
While still early in the process, rumblings can be heard around class of such groundbreaking innovations as a flying vacuum cleaner, a hybrid steam cleaner/wood chipper, and a talking feather duster a la Beauty and the Beast. While many of these ideas may prove to be less than marketable, the marketplace for innovation knows few bounds, and this class is sure to explore all frontiers.