A few decades back, important business people would have secretaries to type for them. Then the innovators of their day realized it was more effective just to do their own typing, particularly with the advent of computers and digital.

Every year, more Darden MBAs are joining what you’d generally call “technology companies” for reasons that are probably pretty obvious to you if you read Ideas to Action. As faculty, our job is to equip them for those roles. I teach two electives, “Software Design” and “Software Development,” to students interested in technology, and I can tell you firsthand that prototypes in HTML, CSS and JS (Javascript) are the new PowerPoint. These students are able to take action on their ideas with the current tools of the trade.

I would say this is important and a harbinger of things to come for three reasons:

  1. Example of Prototype
    Coded by Darden MBAs!
    The Importance of Velocity
    In the traditional corporation, executives make long-term plans and want them executed as efficiently as possible. There’s a lot of importance ascribed to getting the strategy “right.” In the innovative corporation, management creates a culture of experimentation where teams can test a lot of ideas quickly so they can find the one in 10 that’s really a winner. There’s a lot of importance ascribed to strong process and the velocity at which teams can test ideas.

    Handoffs between departments or functions (like product management and engineering) kill velocity, and so the MBA of the future needs to be able to go beyond putting ideas on paper (or PowerPoint).
  2. The Importance of Small, Interdisciplinary Teams

    In the traditional corporation, there are functional departments with hierarchical reporting structures. Various project management interfaces are created to facilitate interfaces between departments — most of these require relatively formal handoffs and working in large batches and long timeframes with a lot of work in progress. In the innovative corporation, executives create a charter about what problems they want to solve for customers and empower small, autonomous, interdisciplinary teams, keeping them aligned with that charter.

    While there are experts on those teams, the boundaries between disciplines are fuzzy vs. stark, and so the future MBA needs a functional understanding of design and development to participate in such a team.
  3. The Ascendance of the Maker/Doer Culture

    In the traditional corporation, your prestige is associated with the number of employees that report to you. In the innovative corporation, the best thing that can happen to you is getting on a small, talented team working on a potentially valuable problem.

Effective teams have a culture of experimentation and a culture of doing vs. talking. The MBA of the future needs to be better at showing than telling.

I’m excited for the future of business and the future of work, and so are Darden MBAs. If you’re interested, I invite you to check out some of their terrific work from the “Software Development” class:

RecruitRef 1


Dominion Granite


Mentor Group

Recruit Ref 2


Points From Away

About the Expert

Alex Cowan

Batten Fellow and General Faculty

Cowan is an expert in digital innovation, agile and lean methodologies, and entrepreneurship. He teaches multiple courses in Darden’s Technology and Operations Management area, as well as the massive open online course specialization “Agile Development” (one of Coursera’s Top 15 specializations) and “Digital Product Management: Modern Fundamentals.”

Author of the book Starting a Tech Business: A Practical Guide for Anyone Creating or Designing Applications or Software, Cowan is also an experienced entrepreneur and intrapreneur who now divides his time between instructing, advising and consulting. He delves into venture design, his systematic approach to developing new products and businesses, on www.alexandercowan.com.

Cowan studied industrial engineering and economics at Stanford University.