This week, the WSJ contrast’s Stanford’s d.school problem solving approach to the Graduate School of Business. The table below summarizes the differences in problem solving approaches championed by each school.

It’s easy to stereotype the b-school graduate as an Excel modeling operations machine without a scintilla of creativity or emotional intelligence. It’s just as lazy to brand d-school degree holders as latte sipping, Mac-carrying Dieter Rams ideologues. It’s true each school of thought represents a unique skill set. But these competencies aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, the most valuable founders or employees exhibit both types of thinking.

Successful startups leverage both d-school creative and b-school analytic approaches. Startups evolve continuously and by definition, their business requirements morph as demands on the company change. From ideation and prototyping, to pilots and customer development, to operationalizing and scaling, processes need to be created, refined, and mechanized. Sometimes, it makes sense to reinvent a supply chain, a go-to-market strategy, or a product category entirely. Other times established methods, like customer acquisition unit economics, accounting or plain old public speaking work just fine.

Building a startup is a balancing act – balancing team size and burn rate, product features and launch schedule, customer demands and company vision. Problem solving approaches are no different.


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