On Innovation: Nathalie Lugagne

Nathalie Lugagne, Executive Degree Program Director, HEC Executive Education, discusses innovation.

Nathalie Lugagne talks about innovation, whether or not it can be taught, and where it can lead if practised the right way.

Nathalie Lugagne, Executive Degree Program Director HEC Executive Education

Nathalie Lugagne, Executive Degree Program Director, HEC Executive Education. Since 2005 she has been designing and developing cutting edge executive degree programs with HEC and the famous TRIUM Global Executive MBA program (a groundbreaking alliance between HEC, NYU Stern and the London School of Economics). In her 11 years with the prestigious French University, Nathalie has focused on creating innovative HEC program offerings with a special focus on Finance and Management.

Can innovation be taught?

Of course it can. Innovation means many things though.  As I see it, there are three kinds of innovation we can focus on in relation to an Executive MBA program: Operational - you need a system in an enterprise to foster innovation; Strategic - through new business models and concepts taught in the Executive MBA; Individual - in the way an executive carries out his or her responsibilities.

Speaking of a person's mentality, innovation is difficult to teach but it can be trained. When students are placed in workgroups, and they have the opportunity to learn and share with their peers, they can begin to 'open the box'. They are able to look outside their current mindset and work situations. In their workgroups they are exposed to different backgrounds, cultures and theories. There is often a real transformation process for students as they begin to explore these new ways of thinking

In the corporate world, what does innovation mean and why is it important?

Innovation helps to keep a competitive edge. Innovation is not just technological, it can take place in all aspects of an organization. Innovation is key in global competition.

Can today's rising executives learn how to be innovative, or are they too set in their ways?

You have to find new pedogogical methods, especially when working with the already very successful type of professionals found in our EMBA group. Certain ways of working have been very productive in the past, but they have to learn new ways of working as well if they want to be truly innovative.

In our program they can learn from their peers as well as through their course work. The class mix and diversity is a key element for exploring new ideas and theories. We use case studies as a way to benefit from the experience in the class room, with each member bringing his or her unique perspective. The teams are very important for creating an ambiance of support as students begin to explore new directions.

Is innovative thinking simply a question of expanding one's comfort zone and confronting the unconventional?

Sometimes innovation is incremental and sometimes it takes very big steps. In certain cases students will be required to take a giant leap in their thinking to get to where they need to be, for others steady baby steps will be fine. Innovation does require expanding one's comfort zone and confronting the unconventional, but other elements may be necessary depending on the student and the situation.

Does the EMBA classroom provide an environment that kindles innovative thinking?

People learn in different ways: alone, in teams, through experience and through text books.  Students are not supermen or superwomen; they work best, as all of us do, in teams. Each person can learn from and be helped by the others' strengths, so yes, in this and other ways the EMBA classroom provides an environment for innovative thinking.

Do corporations expect EMBA participants to bring back innovative thinking to the workplace as an acquired skill?

Yes, this is a key element to the Executive MBA program. Students are able to apply what they are learning in the classroom, right away in the workplace. It is one of the reasons that companies support their executives in seeking out this type of higher education.     

How does the HEC Executive MBA program help participants face the challenge of innovation? 

HEC seeks to focus on the needs of each market and tailor our programs to those criteria. In St. Petersburg for example, there are many entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs; our program, though a common track, is geared towards guiding that entrepreneurial spirit.  France is also headed in this direction as we begin to see students making a switch from working exclusively for large companies to seeking entrepreneurial endeavors. China is different though, in that the students we are working with tend to come from large public companies in domains such as energy and construction. The students there also seem to be coming from very senior positions. When creating our curiculum for each country and each program, we take all of these trends into account. 

In addition, through discussions in the classroom, students find answers to their particular situations. We contribute towards developing strategic thinking that students can then implement and use in their leadership capacities.

Do innovation and leadership go hand-in-hand?

Leadership develops your skills to help know what you are good at. At a team level it is important to be able to identify what each person's skills are and then capitalize on them. As students learn better ways to work with and manage others through their work group experiences, they begin to realize how they can best use innovation to lead.

Interview by Dawn Bournand, Features Editor, QS TopExecEd

Written by QS Blogger
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