Why Enroll in a Master’s in Innovation Program

Industry Advice Business

Seventy-nine percent of executives surveyed by the Boston Consulting Group ranked innovation as a top-three priority at their company. In a separate survey by Deloitte, 78 percent of future business leaders deemed innovation essential to business growth.

But why?

“Innovation is so important because we’re living in a highly competitive, global environment—and all industries are susceptible to disruption,” says Tucker Marion, an associate professor in Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business and director of the Master of Science in Innovation program. “Companies need to be fast-moving, and their employees and managers need to be comfortable with assessing the global landscape and enabling their organization to change. If they don’t do that, companies tend to slowly fade away.”

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Take Blockbuster, for example. By 2004, the video rental chain had opened more than 9,000 stores worldwide. Just six years later, the company was filing for bankruptcy.

Blockbuster’s revenue model had grown too reliant on late fees—a feature their customers hated and didn’t have to pay for using Netflix. Eventually, the company couldn’t compete, falling to the same brand former Blockbuster CEO John Antioco had the chance to buy. At the time, Antioco viewed Netflix as “a very small niche business.” He ignored Netflix’s vision, up until that vision became a reality. When Blockbuster finally launched its own DVD-by-mail business, it was too late. Netflix had already dominated the market.

That’s why innovation matters; companies need to evolve in order to stay relevant. That could mean coming up with new services, products, business models, or sources of revenue. Leaders can choose to innovate in one or multiple areas of their company, what’s important is that they continue to challenge their assumptions and rethink their overall business strategy.

As crucial as innovation is, several companies struggle to find leaders who can initiate that change. Of the 78 percent of respondents who said innovation is essential for business growth, only 26 percent believe their current organization encourages practices that foster innovation.

Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Innovation?

One way to become that innovation leader is by earning a master’s degree. At Northeastern, the Master of Science in Innovation (MSI) program is focused on helping students become corporate entrepreneurs.

“This is about being a leader in your organization,” Marion says, “the type of person who’s going to take risks and apply it to his or her organization. This is especially powerful for traditional organizations that are under threat. Insurance, financial services, food services, and manufacturing, for example. The Amazons of the world are already experts at innovation, it’s the Sears and Macy’s that need immediate help.”

Through the MSI program, students learn about product and service development, go-to-market strategies, lean innovation, financing business growth, and building high-performance innovation teams. That knowledge isn’t confined to the classroom, though. Students take what they learn and apply it directly to their current company by working on a project that can add value to their organization, such as a new product or process innovation.

For Casey O’Neill, that meant establishing a gluten-free spiked seltzer line, called Truly Spiked & Sparkling, for the Boston Beer Company, where O’Neill serves as a product developer on the innovation team. She credits the MSI program for equipping her with the skills she needed to talk with different teams within her company to bring Truly Spiked to market.

“What you get out of the program is how to push innovation forward,” shares O’Neill with the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. “Creativity and innovation are closely linked, in that innovation is being able to take that creative idea and make it into something real.”

A majority of students in the MSI program are mid-career professionals, with an average 13 years of industry experience on their resumé. Many are involved in product or service innovation efforts at their company, Marion says, and want to learn techniques for fostering teams, spotting business opportunities, and leveraging new technologies.

Today’s innovation leaders need to regularly reskill themselves. To Marion, that means:

They need to better understand markets, opportunities, and the needs of customers. They need to understand how technology can be used to reinvent the organization. They need to understand basic business financials and how they can be looked at in a way that helps foster innovation. They need to become better leaders and learn how to identify people in the organization who can help them understand new tools and techniques.

Every industry is being challenged by changes in technology and shifting global dynamics. Employees who see that challenge as an opportunity, however, will thrive, because even successful companies need to regularly rethink their strategy.

Take Kodak: The company that once accounted for 90 percent of film and 85 percent of camera sales in America later filed for bankruptcy. Why? Because the company pushed back against its own employees. Steven Sasson, an engineer at Kodak, invented digital photography and created the first digital camera. Kodak feared, though, that a shift toward digital would cannibalize the company’s film-based business model—the same business model that led to the company’s demise.

Companies need leaders who can spot those big business opportunities and allocate the right resources. A master’s degree in innovation can equip students with the skills they need to do just that.

Why Earn a Master’s Degree More Broadly?

Overall, a master’s degree signals something else to employers: A person who’s proactive, motivated, and committed to lifelong learning—three characteristics that are crucial for anyone interested in innovation to have. Enrolling shows a curiosity and desire to stay ahead of today’s emerging technology trends.

A graduate degree is also becoming more important for career advancement. According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 38 percent of employers have raised their educational requirements over the last five years, with 33 percent hiring master’s degree holders for positions previously held by those with a bachelor’s degree. What’s more, employees with a master’s earn an average 18 percent more over their lifetime than those with a four-year degree.

The network that comes with a master’s program can also set you up for career advancement. In Northeastern’s Master of Science in Innovation program, students are learning from professors who bring years of real-world business experience to the classroom.

“There’s a lot of personal interaction between professors and students working on the issues within their companies,” Marion says, “whether online or on-ground.”

Faculty are just one component, though. The peer groups that form within a master’s program can also be beneficial. O’Neill touted the value of the network, saying, “The cohort itself was huge. People came from all types of places, from startups to global companies, and ranged in age. It brought a lot of different perspectives, which made the conversation really rich.”

Knowing how to foster and support that range of perspectives is crucial to becoming an innovation leader. And earning a master’s degree in innovation could be that first step.

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