How can you create a culture of innovation using design thinking? How do you scale up excellence? Customer-Focused Innovation shows you how by combining cutting-edge social science frameworks with design thinking tools and techniques. It's a unique partnership between the Graduate School of Business and Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, also called the "" And it only happens at Stanford, at the epicenter of innovation.

Program tuition includes private accommodations, all meals, and course materials. Discounts available for participants of any registered nonprofit or non-governmental organization.


Clean models. Dirty hands. Customer-Focused Innovation is the perfect blend of theory and practice, strategy and innovation—an opportunity to flex both your business and creative muscles. At Stanford, we teach innovation as a mindset, not a project. Every morning, you'll learn strategic frameworks and models based on cutting-edge research from Stanford's world-renowned Graduate School of Business faculty. You’ll learn how to better understand customer experiences, develop deeper customer insights, and diffuse customer learning throughout the organization. You'll discuss strategies for reducing the knowing-doing gap and building a customer-centric culture.

Every afternoon you'll work in small teams with faculty and trained coaches from the on a real-world innovation challenge from an outside company. Design thinking's user-centered, prototype-driven process will teach you how to interview and observe customers in the field to understand what motivates them. Then, it's time to embrace experimentation—ideating and prototyping to develop fresh, innovative solutions. And because we’re committed to implementation, you'll receive post-program coaching to help bring customer-focused innovation back to your company.

Faculty Directors
Other Faculty

The Atholl McBean Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resources at Stanford Graduate School of Business, is an expert in social and cultural causes of organizational change. His recent work investigates the role of social movements as motors of organizational change in professional and organizational fields. Rao is also Professor of Sociology (by courtesy), School of Humanities and Sciences; and Academic Director of the Stanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate. He is coauthor of Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less (Crown Business, 2014). He is also Director of the Managing Talent for Strategic Advantage Executive Program.

Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford School of Engineering, is cofounder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. He is also Professor of Organizational Behavior (by courtesy) at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Sutton studies the links between managerial knowledge and organizational action, innovation, and organizational performance, and has most recently coauthored Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less (Crown Business, 2014) and authored Good Boss, Bad Boss (Business Plus, 2012).

General Atlantic Professor of Marketing

Edmund W. Littlefield Professor of Management; Executive Director of the Stanford Executive Program; Director of The Indispensable CTO: Strategic Leadership of Technology and Innovation Executive Program

Consulting Associate Professor and Director of Executive Education, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford

Frank E. Buck Professor of Management; Director of the Leading Change and Organizational Renewal Executive Program

Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior

Sanwa Bank, Limited, Professor of Marketing; Director of the Strategic Marketing Management Executive Program; Director of The Innovative CIO Executive Program

Lecturer and Director, Executive Education, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford

Video Introduction
Design Thinking in Executive Education
"Organizations that are most able to adapt are most able to survive." — Perry Klebahn

See how Customer-Focused Innovation combines academic rigor with hands-on relevance to drive innovation and eliminate the red tape that often impedes it.
Key Benefits

Customer-Focused Innovation will help you:

  • Develop strategies to reduce bureaucratic processes and create an ambidextrous culture to support innovation
  • Observe and understand the needs of customers, develop fast experiments and prototypes with users, and develop prediction markets
  • Gain cutting-edge insights on the sources of customer satisfaction and brand personality
  • Create a culture of innovation that harnesses the creativity of your customers and employees

Program Highlights

At the heart of Customer-Focused Innovation is a field research project that gives you the opportunity to learn design thinking by doing. Working in small teams, you'll tackle a real-world business challenge presented by an outside company—an airline, a hotel, a gas station, etc. You and your team will collaborate with this company to enhance the customer experience by:

  • Interviewing key management and personnel
  • Observing and interviewing customers in the field
  • Ideating, designing, prototyping, and iterating to develop new solutions

Then you'll present those innovative ideas to company management. There's no better way to practice what we teach.

You'll learn about the logic and methods of rapid prototyping to develop quick solutions to customer service problems that can be easily tested and refined. After completing observations and brainstorming exercises, teams will work with staff to select the most promising ideas and to develop and present proposals about how these prototype experiences could be quickly implemented.

This session will focus on a systematic understanding of customer preferences expressed in terms of the relative importance of multiple attributes or features of the product or service.

This session confronts the paradox of organizations that know what to do but frequently fail to do it. You'll learn how to diagnose major barriers and outline a new approach to changing behavior.

Best-selling author Robert Sutton and his Stanford colleague Huggy Rao devoted seven years to studying how the best leaders and teams spread constructive beliefs, behaviors, and practices from those who have them to those who need them. They show what it takes to spread a mindset, not just a footprint, as a program or organization expands. Their insights are based on diverse case studies, hundreds of interviews with scaling veterans, and rigorous academic studies on organizations including Facebook, Google, Pixar, Joie de Vivre hotels, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Girl Scouts, Rocketship Charter Schools,, IKEA, IDEO, U.S. Marines combat teams, JetBlue Airlines, General Electric, NASCAR pit crews at Hendricks Motorsports, and recent start-ups such as Pulse News and Bridge International Academies.

Design and innovation require that one is effective at discovery—unearthing and crafting value for the solutions being sought. The challenge is that while the human brain is most developed compared to all other species, especially in terms of the cognitive functions that it can carry out, a substantial proportion of human decisions and actions are shaped by basic instinctual systems and processes that are not only automatic but also often non-conscious. The purpose of these two sessions is twofold. First is to gain a rich understanding of the workings of the instinctual brain. Second is to leverage this understanding to be effective at discovery and design, unearthing solutions that the instinctual brain seeks, and crafting value propositions for these instinctual solutions.

Who Should Attend?

Customer-Focused Innovation is for strategic and creative thinkers who strive to build organizations that are innovative and nimble. It's specifically designed for:

  • C-level and senior executives who are charged with planning and implementing innovation programs within their companies—no matter the size, industry, or country
  • Executives with responsibility for research and development, product design and development, new business development, marketing, or brand management
SAMPLE Participant Mix
The approach from the moment we arrived of "show, don't tell," and "clean models/dirty hands" was such a vivid way to demonstrate how the value of investing in academics is putting the lessons learned to work right away. I have so much energy toward practicing the processes I learned in the CFI course. I have become a lunatic evangelist in our organization! (In a good way!).
– Sara Kearney
Senior Vice President, Brands
Hyatt Hotels Corporation


Stanford University
The Stanford campus is world renowned for its natural beauty, Spanish mission-style architecture, and temperate climate. With more than 8,180 acres (3,310 hectares), Stanford's campus ranks as one of the largest in the United States. Participants in Stanford's Executive Programs become part of a quintessential university setting, residing together, walking or biking to classes, and enjoying access to Stanford University facilities.
The Knight Management Center
Opened in spring 2011, the Knight Management Center has transformed the Stanford Graduate School of Business into a vibrant and unified indoor-outdoor, living and learning community. Participants will take classes at this new state-of-the-art campus, which features tiered classrooms with extensive floor-to-ceiling glass, the latest in audiovisual technology, numerous breakout and study rooms, outdoor seating areas to encourage informal discussion, and an open collaboration lab that employs hands-on and design thinking techniques.
Schwab Residential Center
Designed by renowned Mexican architect, Ricardo Legorreta, the Schwab Residential Center gives residents ample privacy while promoting collegial interaction through shared lounges, outdoor meeting areas, a library, and an exercise room.


Sara Fernandez
Associate Director, Programs
Phone: +1.650.724.4882

The Stanford Difference

The Place: Immerse yourself in innovation.
The Experience: Transform your thinking, your career, your company.
The Approach: Challenge yourself with research-based learning and real-world experience.