Leading Innovation in Arts and Culture

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Course Date: 16 September 2014 to 11 November 2014 (8 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

Developed by David Owens at Vanderbilt University and customized for the cultural sector with National Arts Strategies, this course will help arts and culture leaders create an environment where new ideas are constantly created, shared, evaluated and the best ones are successfully put to work.

Estimated Workload: 6-8 hours/week

Course Instructors

David Owens

David A. Owens is Professor of the Practice of Management and Innovation at Vanderbilt’s Graduate School of Management, where he also directs the Executive Development Institute.  Specializing in innovation and new product development, he is known as a dynamic speaker and is the recipient of numerous teaching awards.  He provides education and consulting services for a wide range of clients around the world, and his work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, London Guardian and San Jose Mercury News, as well as on NPR’s Marketplace.

Owens has consulted for NASA, The Smithsonian, Nissan, Gibson Music, Alcatel, Tetra Pak, Cisco, LEGO, The Henry Ford Museum and many other organizations.  He has done product design work for well-known firms including Daimler Benz, Apple, Dell, Corning, Steelcase while working at IDEO Product Development.  He also served as CEO of Griffin Technology, a large consumer electronics firm in the iPhone/iPad/iPod accessory market.

Owens earned his PhD in management science and engineering through a joint fellowship program between Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and its School of Engineering.  He holds an MS in engineering product design from the d.school at Stanford and is a registered professional electrical engineer (PE).  In his current work, Owens focuses on concrete strategies for creating positive change in all types of organizations.  His book “Creative People Must Be Stopped!  Six Ways We Stop Innovation (Without Even Trying)” was published by Jossey-Bass Wiley in 2012.

Book Synopsis Video: Creative People Must Be Stopped! 

Course Description

One of the toughest challenges for any leader is getting traction for new ideas. Winning support can be a struggle. As a result, powerful new ideas often get stuck. This is especially true in the cultural sector. People involved in arts and culture often have little time and even less money for experimentation and risks. This course will help those in the performing arts, museums, zoos, libraries and other cultural organizations build environments where new management and program ideas are created, shared, evaluated and the best ones are successfully put to work.

Leading Innovation in Arts & Culture will teach your team how to make an "innovation strategy" a fundamental component of your organization's overall strategy. In this seminar you will learn to:

  • Analyze constraints on innovation in your organization, foresee obstacles and opportunities, and develop a shared vision
  • Develop a process to manage the demands of multiple stakeholders, shifting priorities and the uncertainty inherent in new initiatives
  • Create a culture for innovation and risk-taking that generates new perspectives and challenges existing practice
  • Create a strong customer focus within your organization that anticipates customer needs

National Arts Strategies worked with David Owens to customize this course for those working in the cultural sector. They based their work on David Owens’ Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations course. This highly interactive 8-week course will engage your team through a series of class discussion and team exercises. The team from National Arts Strategies will use its deep experience working in this field to facilitate discussion among participants. They will also lead exercises to help you examine and change your current habits of thought and behavior. 



Can you really teach people how to be creative and innovative?

This course does not try teach people how to be creative. Rather, it teaches us how to stop stopping it. If we can do that, a person's natural creativity will easily bloom.


What are the readings for the course and where are they available?

Freely available readings will be assigned for each course session. We also recommend that students purchase David Owens' book "Creative People Must Be Stopped!" which was written specifically for this course. Additional readings will be recommended during the course.


How is this course customized for arts and culture?

While the fundamental elements of strategic innovation are the same across sectors, this course will draw upon particular examples and constraints from the arts and culture field. The shared focus of the participants will create an international community around cultural innovation, which will fuel a rich discussion online. Many of the discussions and exercises will be facilitated by the team National Arts Strategies, an organization with deep experience working with arts and culture professionals from around the world.


What are the course requirements and deliverables?

See next question.


Will I get a certificate for completing the class?

The short answer is yes. Read on for the long answer: In recognition that all participants will not have the same goals or time to invest, the course is offered at two levels of engagement. Each level will receive a different acknowledgement for completing the course. See the course syllabus for details. Also see "Course Format" section above for overview.


What is the format of the class?

The class will consist of lecture videos, assigned readings, and exercises. There will also be individual assignments and team assignments for those taking the advanced levels of the course


How do the teams work (given that this is an online class)?

For those taking the Studio Mastery program, participants will need to work in teams of two-to-five persons to complete the course project assignment. You are strongly encouraged to recruit other local participants to take the course if only to populate your project team.


What if I don't have a team? How can I find a team to join?

If you cannot find someone to take the course with you, you can post to the class website in order to recruit other team members. However, you will not be able to start on the assigned group exercises and project deliverables until you have formed and registered your team.


Do I need to watch the lectures live?

No. You can watch the lectures at your own convenience.


How much does it cost to take the course?

The course is free. When assigned, readings will be available through links on the internet. See above for information on the recommended (but not required) textbook.



Week 1: Introduction
Why Everyone Wants Innovation but No One Wants to Change

We introduce the approach of the class: instead of trying to be innovative, just stop stopping it. We discuss a framework for analyzing the six most common barriers (constraints) that stop innovation.

Week 2: Individual Constraints
Why Most of Us Are More Creative Than We Think

Psychologists treat innovation as a problem of having creative ideas; we sometimes stop innovation by not "thinking different." This week explores the constraints of perception, intellection and expression and offers strategies for overcoming them.

Week 3: Group Constraints
Why a Brainstorm Meeting Can Be Worse Than No Meeting at All

Social psychologists treat innovation as a group problem: we often don't get early support for our ideas because of adverse group dynamics. This week looks at the constraints of emotion, culture and process in groups as well as the environment within which groups work and looks at ways to overcome them.

Week 4: Organizational Constraints
Why You’ll Never Be a Prophet in Your Own Hometown

The field of management sees the problem of innovation as one of the organization; organization is the opposite of innovation, after all. This week explores the constraints of strategy, structure and resources and we explore ways of framing them that will help us to overcome them.

Week 5: Industry Constraints
If It’s Such a Great Idea, Why Isn’t Our Competitor Doing It?

An economist view of failed innovation sees it as a problem of adoption; when there's no market to adopt it, it's not an innovation, it's just a creative idea. We look at the constraints of competition, suppliers and markets and discuss strategies you can use to relax them.

Week 6: Societal Constraints
Why My Innovation Means You Have to Change

The sociological and anthropological perspective suggests that societies control or obstruct innovations that are deemed as dangerous or contrary to societal values. This week explores the constraints of identity, social control, and history and we will seek an understanding of how we might avoid them.

Week 7: Technological Constraints
How to Take a Really Hard Problem and Make It Completely Impossible

Engineers and scientists see failed innovation as a failure of technology; if it doesn't work, it's not an innovation. Here we explore the constraints of knowledge, time and the natural environment. Rather than trying to overcome them, we develop strategies for working within these constraints.

Week 8: When Failure Is Not an Option
Leading an Innovation Strategy

The final week has us putting the entire model together into the leadership context. We will learn about innovation portfolios and discuss a tested process for moving innovations from ideas to realities.

This animated video describes the basic issues addressed by the course.



The course will consist primarily of weekly video lectures with embedded quizzes, short exercises, readings, several diagnostic surveys and a brief weekly reflection paper.

In recognition that not all participants have the same learning objectives or available time, the course is offered at two levels of engagement: a "Standard Level" or a "Studio Mastery Level." The major difference between the two is that the Studio Mastery Level requires that you work with a small team on a course-related project. You can read more about the programs below:

"Standard Level

Estimated Time Commitment: 4-6 Hours Per Week

Students at this level receive a “Statement of Accomplishment” or a Verified Certificate (for those taking the course through Signature Track -- see https://www.coursera.org/signature/guidebook for more information). These statements indicate advanced proficiency with the course concepts and framework. This program is designed for those who wish to engage the material by doing assignments, exercises and discussion board participation, however, who may not have the time to complete an innovation project.

“Studio Mastery Level”

Estimated Time Commitment: 6-10 Hours Per Week

Students at this level will receive a “Statement of Accomplishment - With Distinction (or Verified Certificate) that indicates mastery of the practice of the course content. Students will apply the material by completing an innovation project in a small team. This program is designed for those students wishing to achieve mastery of the course material and to understand its application in a real-world project context. You are strongly encouraged to recruit other local participants to take the course with you if you’d like to do this program. If you work in an arts or cultural organization, this is a great opportunity to create a team at your office to learn together and push a project forward. If you don't have a local team to work with, there will be an opportunity to recruit a virtual team through discussion board posts once the course has begun.


Suggested Reading

While I will provide pointers to additional readings for each class module, I recommend (but do not require) that students refer to the book "Creative People Must Be Stopped!" which was written specifically for this course.

Course Workload

6-8 hours/week

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