One hundred people taking a 100-day online programme to learn how to become change-makers within their organisations. Some of them have had live coaching through an intensive workshop on ‘design thinking’ at the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship in Rotterdam. Design thinking means to put the customer first and to look at innovation through their eyes. The participants are currently in the middle of the fast-paced NRC Live Impact Challenge, a collaboration between the Dutch national newspaper NRC and Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). This unique online programme aims to help people to implement new and sustainable ways to innovate and create new value within their organisations, at the same time as making a positive impact on society. It’s based on RSM’s existing portfolio of Executive Education Programmes about strategy and innovation and the school’s extensive research on social intrapreneurship and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. It includes live meetings and feedback sessions as well as online studies.

Empathy as a source for insights

Dirk Deichmann, RSM’s associate professor in its department of technology and operations management, led the workshop that fast-tracked participants through the stages of design thinking to help participants discover how they might apply this to their own impact challenges.

They were asked to create a souvenir of Rotterdam, and encouraged to think of ‘what people need’. Participants then tried a fact-finding exercise with each other – what would they want as a souvenir? The ideas for souvenirs resulting from this approach were unusual; for example, a visit to a run-down Rotterdam building to recapture the ‘lost authenticity’ of the city.

Dr Deichmann described the process of design thinking; collecting insights from which a more concrete challenge or problem can be defined, generating ideas and testing prototypes. The classic approach of immediately generating ideas risks the innovator becoming hooked on their own ideas.

One participant said: “You only realise you are missing essential information when you get to the ideas or solution phase; I love this assignment!” Other participants agreed that the process helps to fine-tune their plans.

Customer journey mapping

Dirk also introduced customer journey mapping; thinking from the viewpoint of an unlikely customer, the more absurd the better. The outcome for participants would be a better sense of empathy – for example for visually impaired visitors or those without vested interests in the webpage contents.

Design thinking primarily uses an ethnocentric approach to understanding customers and collecting data, and is only one tool for innovators and intrapreneurs to develop new products, services, or processes.

Indoor campfires for peer review sessions

RSM’s partner in the impact challenge facilitated the peer review sessions. Outside Inc. is a consultancy for future-proofing products and services to attract new and existing customers and encourages divergent and creative brainstorming sessions. It aims to use people’s skills to accelerate innovation in business.

The feedback session asked participants to be creative with Play-Doh and explain their thinking processes as they modelled it, showing that products need to change. It is often only by speaking to different audiences, markets and customer groups that product design processes make leaps into unexpected directions. The feedback session mimicked a campfire gathering, with rounds of pitching, questioning, conversing, and reflecting. The most common questions were about:

  • gaining support for innovative ideas from within and from outside the organisation
  • convincing sceptics
  • finding the strengths of a business model by identifying the organisation’s ‘pain point’
  • how to tell if the project is heading in the right direction
  • how to measure the project’s impact.

After the live session with RSM academics and feedback convenors, the 100 participants on the NRC Live Impact Challenge go back to studying online as they develop theoretical knowledge about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and sustainable innovation in order to start to implement positive changes within their organisations. On 27 June at the end of the programme, successful participants will be certified 'Positive Change Leader'. Participants can enter their ideas for innovative and positive change into the competitive element of the programme’s conclusion with a live pitching session in June. The winner will be profiled in NRC, receive a training budget from RSM Executive Education, and will be able to access the network and services from ImpactCity, a community for start-ups and scale-up businesses in The Hague.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top-ranked business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Erika Harriford-McLaren, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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