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Live from FEI 2013: G. Martino, M. Leonard, and D.R. Widder on Nexus Sprint Learning and Open Innovation

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How do you teach the next generation of innovators?  Mike Leonard and D.R. Widder of Philadelphia University developed a problem-based learning paradigm they call Nexus Sprint Learning, which allows students to apply their creative skills to real cases.  The results are incredible, as in the case Leonard and Widder presented with Gail Martino of Unilever.

At the hub of Nexus learning is five key principles:

-Collaboration (and they do use team-building exercises)
-Real World Problems
-Preparedness for Anything
In the Sprint format, all of the classes are taught in a studio environment, and students have one week to solve the case presented to them by key stakeholders in the company.  Sprint teams are formed from all years of the program (first-years to master's students) and/or from multiple programs, but with no determined hierarchy (though a project manager prompts the activity).  Faculty go from group to group facilitating and consulting, as the students go from zero to solution in just seven days.
Sprint projects feature:
-A kick-off meeting with the client-sponsor
-An early work session with subject matter experts (SME's) from the client sponsor
-Nightly written and photographic progress documentation (posted so that instructors and teammates can see the latest)
-Mid-project critique (30-second elevator pitch and then Q&A)
-Final public presentation

Sprint projects can be total win-win situations for both the university and the company.  The students get hands-on experiences and get to build portfolios of successes, while companies get to work on wish-list problems that no one has the time to tackle for a very small cost (and they get to keep and market the products!).

In Unilever's case, they got 30+ product concepts from the students, 5 of which they were able to take forward, and 3 of which were taken to a second stage with the university (remember: this is the fruit of just one week of work!).

Gail Martino also shared 10 suggestions for how to have a successful Nexus Sprint:
1) Aligned goals
2) Aligned culture
3) Top-down organizational support -- get internal buy-in and support from upper management
4) Clear brief
5) Clear success metrics
6) Accountability for follow up
7) Project management
8) Stakeholder management
9) Communication strategy -- be able to sell the new idea internally to the organization to get buy-in
10) Feedback
As Aaron Keller noted, this was a very extensive presentation, and there was a great deal to learn and discover.  Which collaboration ideas does the Nexus Sprint inspire for your company?

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

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