Innovation Leadership in Construction

Schliessen Icon

The course 'Innovation leadership' aims at promoting students’ critical thinking processes and their managerial skills through the definition of individual, student-led learning objectives while lecturers provide feedback on their progress along the course. In addition, students solve a real-world case project for a corporate client in the Swiss building industry.

The course was setup as compulsory lecture for the Master program in Integrated Building Systems to teach about strategies for complex problem-solving (real-world case), to foster self-reflection and to provide a platform for interdisciplinary exchange. The motivation for this additional course stems from the need to integrate different fields and disciplines and to generate innovative solutions for the construction industry.
Our tools include an online assessment to become aware about individual cognitive strengths and room for improvement, a learning diary in which students’ track their own learning objectives and initiate a dialogue with the lecturers and a Design Thinking tool-kit on how to structure ill-defined problem sets including methods for implementation.
Besides the tools we teach throughout the course sessions, students solve real-world cases set-up by the partner company. Students fare the ‹project owners› and take on responsibility for advancing the learnings of the project team and in class in order to develop a solution that will be presented to the top management of the company. ETH faculty facilitates the learning process and offers feedback and coaching sessions to empower and support students’ progress.
The course was first taught in spring 2015 and will be held for the third time in spring 2018 as one of the base lectures of the Master Program in Integrated Building Systems.

Testimonials from students on the three focal tools, which are introduced step-by-step along the course.

Feedback about Learning Diaries / Individual Task (self-reflective writing, also to support case project with industry partner):

“Learning to work towards an unknown direction with no certain outcome: What I gained was to avoid being stressed, but instead, put everything in order, and step by step, the outcome became clearer.”

Feedback on Online-Assessment / Individual Task (to identify individual cognitive dispositions):

“The self-assessment revealed that I’m not so good at trying new things. So, I decided to conduct interviews and design a mock-up together with a team mate to practice my language skills and creativity. From this experience, I learnt that even creativity can be practiced, and that I need to be bold.”

Two feedback on Design Thinking Toolkit / Team Exercise (creativity methods and guidance to approach an ill-structured problem):

“We tried Herbstlaub (an ideation technique) and it was really productive! We found an empty space on campus, put on some music to keep track of time and also to help us “leave” the room mentally (mainly lyrics-free to concentrate more easily) and tried to identify our unanswered questions. We came up with many ideas to rethink or to think about for the first time, since as it seemed every one of us focused on different things that we deemed yet unanswered. Very good idea. I never thought about lyrics-free as element to reduce distraction!”
“Seeing all the different ways of producing ideas and addressing questions through the toolkit, I feel it really expanded my point of view about how I think. I did not really have in mind that there are so many triggering processes for productive thinking (also the why/what part was really illuminating) and I appreciate having gained some tools for future application.”