Theres an old adage among engineers: If youre trying to solve a problem, take it to freshman engineering students, not seniors. Thats because, after four years of learning about the limits of physics, they lose the ability to design solutions that ignore its boundaries.
Its the same with innovation. It can be hard for those most familiar with the constraints of their business to Think Different, as Apples (AAPL) famous ad campaign once implored.
Thats why such companies as Brooks Brothers, Costco (COST), Siemens (SIE),Emerson Electric (EMR), and others are working with training labs, where MBA students come up with novel ways to solve some daunting problemsfrom turning around a struggling business unit to developing a retailers supply chain strategy for refrigerated groceries in India.
The benefits for MBAs are obvious: They get to experience real pressures, challenges, and deadlines in the workplace. Corporations dont just do it for charity, however. At a leading health-care company, the students analyzed more than 4,000 knee replacement procedures to identify new best practices. Now the company is applying similar analytical rigor to other medical specialties and procedures.