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Advanced training in Silicon Valley - Leuphana Students as ambassadors of Design Thinking

2018-01-12 Leuphana is the first German university to make it possible for three students to participate in the important University Innovation Fellowship Program in Stanford. They were given a preparation, in Germany and the US, to participate as change agents in shaping universities and higher education. An important tool is Design Thinking as innovation method.

“Immediately turn any good idea, into reality!” this the life principle, which Prof. Sabine Remdisch, head of the Institute for Performance Management at Leuphana University, always follows. Last time this happened was a year ago, when she became aware of Stanford d. school's International University Innovation Fellowship Programme. This international course trains students from all over the world to become change agents in the field of higher education. It is about tackling challenges in creative processes with the associated techniques, so as to enable the creation of outstanding innovations as end result. “When I considered proposing three students from Leuphana for this programme last spring, the application deadline had already expired” remembers Remdisch, who is a visiting scholar at Stanford University, “but I didn't want to wait another year”. For this reason, she and the students Hannah Vergossen (Master’s in Management and Business Development), Christian Otto (Doctorate in Work and Organizational Psychology) and James Long (Master’s in Management and Data Science) decided to proceed at a fast pace. After Stanford d. school had extended the registration period for German applicants, the Leuphana team secured funding within a very short time and prepared to apply. “Everything worked out in the end," says Christian Otto. "The 6-week online course could begin”.

Design Thinking – Creative Disorder and Strong Principles

Six weeks – six key topics: The University Innovation Fellow Programme meant a high workload for the Leuphana students and at the same time a lot of new experiences. “The central theme of the course is Design Thinking” Hannah Vergossen sums up. “This methodology developed in Silicon Valley enables new thinking processes, creates ideas and focuses on developing innovations that are geared to the user and his needs.” Christian Otto describes how the concept is applied in concrete terms by means of a model creative meeting: “At first all ideas are collected, there are no bad approaches, but fantasies are accepted. In individual, successive processes, everything in the end concentrates on one solution”. There is a positive disorder, James Long adds, including coloured post-its on the walls, labelled with countless ideas. At the same time, however, strict principles apply, for example: “The meeting is clearly limited in time, the motto is: ‘Less talk, more action’. In addition, the focus is always on the customer. We don't develop what we like, but what the user likes”. That's exactly why the method is so successful.
The theory in virtual space was followed by practice on site: in November, together with 300 participants from 10 countries Hannah, Christian and James attended the Silicon Valley Meetup at Stanford University hosted in collaboration with Google, the Internet giant. “d. school’s faculty members mediated and deepened the mind-set for innovation with us” says Hannah Vergossen. “The rooms alone were impressive”. Many walls can be written on, so whoever has an idea, just grabs a pen and makes a visual representation of their project. “Don't linger – just do it. I find that very inspiring”.

“There's another spirit blowing!”

The three students emphasise that the working atmosphere had been a completely new experience – unfamiliar in some cases, but inviting at the same time. “When we visited Google Headquarters, we came across this special spirit. At the beginning of the practice project, we walked into one of the buildings with several hundred people – to the left and right of us stood people who applauded us to loud music. We wanted to join in, but eventually it became too much”. For the American James Long, however, this working culture is less foreign to him: “This spirit is important for gathering energy and being creative. A certain form of entertainment makes sense”.

The spirit from Silicon Valley has been blowing through Leuphana University of Lüneburg since their return to Germany. It can still be felt in isolated instances, but this is set to change in the future. “The idea behind the programme is to apply and pass on the experiences from the USA” explains Sabine Remdisch. Hannah, James and Christian are now on the road as University Innovation Fellows and thus as innovation ambassadors. For this reason, the three are planning different projects, including the LeadershipGarage. Its mission is to support managers in implementing innovation methods. Hannah Vergossen: “On 30th of January, we will be hosting a congress on the theme of Leading Innovation in the Main Building. There, we will launch a test balloon to bring students and companies together through design thinking. Together, we want to devise a solution enabling both sides do benefit from one another in the best possible way”. Vergossen believes that she and her fellow students are the first generation to apply this methodology to Leuphana. “But the goal is to make Design Thinking a major national movement in the long run.”


Prof. Dr. Sabine Remdisch
Universitätsallee 1, C6.002
21335 Lüneburg
Fon +49.4131.677-1861

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