Students in the Innovator course took on a real-world challenge this spring when they helped Laura Walker '87, president and CEO of New York Public Radio, address a business challenge.
Walker and Becca Lehrer '10, New York Public Radio's director of business development, were guests on April 8 and 9 in the course, taught by Rodrigo Canales, assistant professor of organizational behavior. Innovator, part of the integrated core curriculum, focuses on creating and sustaining innovation within organizations.
The visitors from New York Public Radio took part in an idea generation exercise led by Ed Milano, a senior fellow at the consulting firm Continuum. Milano guided student teams through a reframing process aimed at deconstructing and then reconstructing an issue to gain new perspectives and fresh insights.
Walker told the class that the company, which includes the stations WNYC and WQXR, was looking to monetize some of its popular brands—shows that listeners are experiencing primarily on digital platforms, as opposed to over the radio waves. She told the class a holistic approach to revenue generation was needed. "There's really a blank slate here and we're interested in having you help us," Walker said.
The exercise provided the class with an opportunity for "action learning," Canales says.
"There is a place for theory and practice, but action learning is where things truly materialize and where insights are made for students," he says. "A lot of what we do in our course is to get students to actually experience situations where they see the stakes are real."
The exercise also illustrated the Innovator course's central tenet—that organizations must create structured means to actively pursue innovation, Canales says.
Student teams began the challenge by analyzing the target audience, the delivery mechanisms for programs—radio, podcast, internet—and its objectives. Milano encouraged them to "hack and slash" the problem by breaking it down into its component pieces.
The teams then presented their suggestions to Walker and Lehrer. Among other ideas, teams suggested that the station cross-promote donation and membership opportunities across programs and create more membership options that will allow listeners to specifically support only the programs they choose.
While the station is maximizing marketing opportunities for its individual brands, it shouldn't lose sight of the power of creating one big, overarching brand and platform, students said. The notion resonated with Walker. "I love the idea of a large platform and building the loyalty across brands," she said.