“Actually trying something is very different from learning about it in theory. I could explain kitesurfing until we’re blue in the face, but you won’t be able to do it until you try,” says Eric von Hippel, a professor of entrepreneurship at MIT.

Von Hippel’s words of wisdom are especially appropriate given a 2014 Bentley University poll which found that 67% of Millennials in the US aspire to start their own business or already have done. So why not equip them with not only the knowledge but the experience to achieve this aim, during their college years?

Colleges that take this approach are becoming increasingly popular and understandably sought after. Stanford is one of the earliest adopters of a teaching method that embraces ‘design thinking’ across various fields. Students are given free rein to “observe, brainstorm, synthesize, prototype and implement their product ideas” in a space that provides the perfect conditions for encouraging creativity (think whiteboards, post-it notes and collaborative workstations).

The courses offered are unique in that they don’t just offer design for design’s sake. They’re integrated with the real world and its real problems, with students looking at how to solve them or how to improve inefficiencies. It’s also about doing, with students developing prototypes, and experimenting and seeing what works.

It’s a much-needed shift to keep up with the demands of many young people who are finding it increasingly difficult to commit to a four-year college degree, when they’re already chomping at the bit to design and create something themselves. “Some of the best innovation classes we teach put them [the students] in a position to drop out,” says Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford.

The templates are being tossed out the window, and perhaps it’s about time. A one-size-fits-all approach to education no longer stacks up, manufacturing young people who are “great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it,” says William Dersiewicz, a former English professor at Yale. It’s education for the real world, with students empowered to choose an education that makes a difference – and do it. Stanford’s school motto sums it up: ‘Do to think. And think to do.”

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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