3 years ago I quit my job as a Design Director to fully focus on Future London Academy, which was growing rapidly after 4 years of successful programmes. When I was leaving I said that my dream was to build the new Bauhaus – a place where the most inspiring people in the industry will teach, hang out and share their experience. Back then it seemed like an impossible idea. 3 years later we have teachers from Wolff Olins, Monzo, Spotify, Facebook, Zaha Hadid, IDEO, Pentagram and over 5000 applicants from all around the world who are eager to attend the programme. Maybe now it’s the right time to tell the full story.
I worked in the design industry for 15 years and I realised the more you get to the top of the career ladder, the more you feel like there is a gap in your knowledge around topics like finance, operations, leadership and management that stops you from having more productive conversations with CFOs, CEOs and board members as well as just being a better leader and team member. Usually, at this point people go to get an Executive MBA, but unfortunately, a lot of MBA content is very outdated and not relevant for Design-led or tech businesses. As well as, it is (with rare exceptions) taught by professors who haven’t worked in the industry for 10-20 years and as Nassim Taleb very well described in his book – “don’t’ have skin in the game”.
There was really no place to learn about business, leadership and design strategy if you already have 15+ years of experience. So we decided to create one.
First, we needed to choose what subjects are important to teach based on the current state of the world. So I went and spoke to some of the most successful and inspiring people in the industry about what they think was needed – and these were some of the most insightful conversations of my life. I met with Michael Wolff (founder of Wolff Olins), Joanna Pena-Bickley (Head of IOT at Amazon), Helen Fuchs (Design Director at ustwo), Steve ‘Buzz” Pearce (Global Head of Design at Skyscanner), Charly Lester (founder of Lumen), Jamie Thomas (CFO at Qubit), Etienne Martin (VP Product at Lyst), James Hilton (founder of AKQA), Francesca Cuda (CTO at ustwo), Cathy Walton (renown Business Psychologists), Luke Powell (Partner at Pentagram), Liz LeBlanc (Head of Design at Livework), Ije Nwokorie (Senior Director at Apple) and other great minds who were generous with their thoughts and experiences. Some of them later formed our Founding Committee who advise and course-correct our thinking.
Based on these conversations and being inspired by the original Bauhaus structure, we formed the curriculum and called it the Executive Programme for Design Leaders. It consists of 5 layers:
During the years of running Future London Academy, we’ve developed our own approach to designing learning experiences that focuses on the practical side, real-life scenarios and making the process of learning engaging. This programme is no exception and we don’t have any professors or theoretical people teaching on the programme and all the content is developed and delivered by practitioners and leaders in companies like Transferwise, IDEO, Wolff Olins, Monzo, Pentagram, Facebook, Droga5, Spotify and others. It was especially important for us to make sure we approach learning design in a way that extracts all the best knowledge from every expert and puts it in a framework that makes their experience useful for others. We created our own learning canvas and we sat down with every expert to develop their session and make sure all sessions are linked to each other and flow well.
As everyone attending this programme is extremely busy and either runs their own business or is at a very senior position at innovative companies across the world, we wanted to make sure they can fit learning around their busy schedules. So we split the programme into 5 short modules – four of them are in London and one in California. Each module focuses on the number of subjects and areas, e.g. Company (finance, operations, sales, legal, etc) or Team (management, communication, culture, etc). The Module in California is all about learning the ins-and-outs of the startup and VC ecosystem and the cohort will be working on a brief to “acquire” or “invest” in one of the startups, based on the brief from a large organisation.
Every day of the programme consists of two 4-hour immersive sessions – one in the morning and one after a lunch break. Each session is led by one of our industry experts, during which participants will deep dive into a particular subject and will work on group tasks as well as individual challenges they can bring from their work. We also have a variety of activities planned for the group to explore the cultural side of London, bond and learn from each other.
Between the 2-week modules, there is suggested pre- and further reading, but nothing too time-consuming. We wanted to minimise the distractions so that participants could start applying everything they’ve learnt in their day-to-day work and see what works and what doesn’t and come back to the next module with more questions and reflections.
The last Module will be focused on preparing the participants to put their plans into action and think through the next steps together with our mentors and advisors from the industry,
As this programme is at the same level as an Executive MBA, we started exploring the certification process. Very quickly we got interest from various Universities who really loved what we are building and were ready to partner with us to issue degrees. The only caveat was that we needed to comply with the traditional MBA curriculum and report to the University board about any changes we want to make. Considering that a big part of the traditional MBA has irrelevant subjects, it didn’t make sense to waste our student’s time learning something they will never use. We also wanted to include more subjects around Creative Leadership and building Design-led businesses, that didn’t fit the traditional MBA curriculum.
So we made a bold move and decided to stay self-certified and focus on the quality of the learning experience rather than compliance with the outdated system. It sounded crazy at the time, but turned out to be the right decision. When we interviewed candidates for the programme later, we heard a lot of the same concerns around traditional MBA content and everyone was really glad that we went against the system.
As news about the programme got picked up by some big publications, we started receiving hundreds of applications from around the world (we’ve got 5570 applications as of today and it grows every day). As we intentionally want to make the cohort small to maximise the learning experience, it is important for us to select the right 20 people who will bring different angles, will learn from each other as well as are at the right stage in their career so will benefit the most from the experience.
We are still in the process of going through applications and interviewing short-listed candidates – and I have to say, it is a real privilege to be talking to inspiring creative leaders from every corner of the world from California to Japan, from Australia to Nigeria, from Russia to Germany – and hearing their stories, challenges and achievements. There are Creative Directors, Heads of Innovation and Founders working in massive organisations like Netflix, Google and Apple as well as small independent design agencies and inspiring startups. I can confidently say that the group of leaders that will be selected for the cohort will, for sure, make history.
While the cohort selection process still continues I can’t wait to meet everybody when the programme starts in October and even more excited to see what they will achieve with the help of 100+ teachers, curators and mentors from the most innovative companies. This will be a very special year for all of us.
Stay tuned for more insights from our industry experts and if you want to check out our Executive Programme for Design Leaders – you can find more information here.