Customer Focused Innovation

Twenty executives from around the world used design thinking last week to help re-invent the purchasing experience for a company that’s busy re-thinking an entire industry: Tesla Motors.

The project was part of Customer Focused Innovation, a week-long executive education program co-hosted by the and the GSB.  The program takes a “clean models, dirty hands” approach: in the mornings, the execs attend lectures and delve into case studies at the GSB. In the afternoons, they take on real-world innovation challenges using design thinking. CFI started four years ago as the brainchild of professors Bob Sutton, Huggy Rao and d.schoolers Perry Klebhan and Alex Kazaks, who were all part of the teaching team this year.

This was the first partnership between the and Tesla, and we’ll admit: we had a little too much fun test-driving the roadster. Not only is Tesla the only global automaker manufacturing and selling highway-capable electric vehicles, they’re doing it with the performance of a luxury sports car. With a reputation for technological innovation firmly in place, Tesla is looking to re-invent the experience of buying a car. CFI participants started by gaining empathy for Tesla’s customers: they spent a day at the company’s Palo Alto store, shadowing potential buyers and interviewing Tesla owners. One of the owners they met was Don Cox (pictured above being interviewed by a group of participants) a Stanford professor of electrical engineering who owns roadster #60 and has given hundreds of rides to folks who are curious about the electric car experience. Over the next three days, participants synthesized their findings, developed prototypes, got feedback from users and iterated to create a second round of prototypes.

After just 13 total hours of work on the project, the participants presented scaled solutions to Tesla executives. They ranged from a mom-and-pop style dealership on a Manhattan street corner, to a fully realized Tesla Ambassador Program that tapped the evangelical spirit and enthusiasm of existing Tesla owners like Don Cox. Tesla is looking forward to taking ideas from the prototypes back to their store, and we’re looking forward to seeing what how CFI participants will use design thinking back at their own companies.

For more information, and lots of other good stuff, check out Bob Sutton’s blog.