Blog | Robert Davis 10.02.17

Masters of Innovation

How I went looking for a school and found a team along the way

One sunny Friday afternoon in early September I found myself dangling by a rope, 40 feet above the forest floor. I knew I’d be OK – even though I’d only just met the people holding the rope the day before. I knew going back to school 30 years after my BA would be exciting and stimulating in ways I couldn’t predict – but what I hadn’t realized until then is that it’s also a team sport. Our first task at this three-day residency in the country wasn’t just to get immersed in the subject matter. We also had to cohere as high-performance teams – and hey, that’s something I do at the office already, right? This shouldn’t be too hard.

Maybe I should back up a bit. A couple years ago I started working with a few other people at PJA on a new framework for marketing strategy that we call Branding for Change. It’s a way for marketers to think differently about what they set out to achieve with their brands, and it’s something I’m really excited about. In fact, it has so much potential I thought I’d sharpen up my own skills to help PJA and our clients get the most out of it.

My Rebirth as a Husky

Hanging onto this rope, I’m not just another agency strategy guy – I’m also a candidate for an MS in Innovation from Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. After a year of Saturdays, I figured I’d have some new tools and ideas for how we could work with our clients to apply our strategic framework in ways that go far deeper into their business than their ads.

After a couple of weeks, I can see how that year of Saturdays will actually include a lot of Sundays, many early morning hours, and some late nights, too. Doing this in a year is demanding. 

And it’s a blast, too.

Planning to learn

Getting ready for today, I was focused on the skills I’d acquire. That’s why you go back to school, right? After three weeks, however, I’m in love with the way we’re learning.  Our teachers are academically accomplished, but most also have excelled in business. We’re coached in methods and shown frameworks, but it’s up to us to learn by applying them. And what’s more, I do this all with smart, funny, driven classmates who are managers at companies like Bose, Dell/EMC, Liberty Mutual, Publicis, and Reebok, as well as some interesting companies I hadn’t heard of before and a handful of non-profits working on issues from settling Syrian refugees to re-thinking our legal system.

I think I’d better bring my A game. These people are serious.

Setting up regular check-ins

Over this coming year, I’ll report in once a month or so on lessons learned. So far, I’ve found it takes effort to balance work, school and family, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Next time I’ll have more to say about what we’re learning. Here’s a preview: we just got our first team project assignments for real clients, and while my client’s name is confidential for now, they’re definitely a company you’ve heard of – and they’re looking to innovate. I can’t wait to tell you more about it. Stay tuned.

Check out D’Amore-McKim’s MS in Innovation.

Brand for change

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