Perspectives from Melbourne: agility opens previously locked doors

Perspectives from Melbourne: agility opens previously locked doors

Visiting professor Cathryn Nolan opens up about how visiting Vietnam continually expands her mindset, and how she brings this knowledge to the MBA’s Design Thinking for Business class.

When Visiting Professor Cathryn Nolan first came to Vietnam in 2015, she was initially overwhelmed by the amount of action occurring around her. So much so, she admits to thinking she needed “another set of eyes.” 

Yet Vietnam offered Ms. Nolan a chance to expand her agility aptitude, alongside teach RMIT Vietnam’s Design Thinking class in the MBA program. 

Ms. Nolan relates, “in Australia, students will go quite deep, quickly, when asked probing, if not personal, questions. However, in Vietnam I learned that I can’t push students too much too quickly, and instead, listen more. I remind myself to ask: ‘am I speaking to my students in a way that they can listen to me, and am I listening to them in a way that them can speak to me’?  By going slowly to move quickly, by the end of each intensive I can see the students are thinking differently” 

Growing one’s agility is one of RMIT’s main goals, for both staff and students. As Ms. Nolan states regarding teaching in a different country, “one can’t just ‘colour by numbers’ – we need to deliver content that’s relevant for the context - something RMIT excels at greatly. The way students learn is more important than way I think I should teach.” Ms. Nolan goes on to say that while bringing a global mindset to class is vital, even so teachers and students alike must be agile and be able to make use of their learnings in their day-to-day world, consistent with their core values. 

In terms of Design Thinking, the value comes from pushing the student to redefine and deeply understand the ‘wicked’ human centred problems they encounter in their increasingly complex work and lives, and to focus on solving challenges most worth solving. Further value comes in the promotion of teamwork and collaboration, harnessing diversity to foster both innovation and problem-solving skills.

Alt Text is not present for this image, Taking dc:title 'news-2-rmit-vietnam-launches-new-bachelor-of-business' Students taking part in activities in Design Thinking for Business class at RMIT Vietnam

Ms. Nolan encourages students to visualise what it’s like being in love when confronted with a particularly difficult issue. “Remember how connected you were, with butterflies in your stomach. You had a deep curiosity for that person … that’s how you should be when faced with a difficult problem.” 

The purpose of this mental reset is that, as a leader in today’s business world, “you really have to care about the problem,” Ms. Nolan says.  “You cannot just take the first solution given to you.  In traditional business situations we’re discouraged from talking about problems – it’s common to hear ‘Don’t come to me with a problem, come to me with solutions!’ “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.  That way you won’t settle for the first solution you come up with, you’ll keep working to find the right solution for the problem you really care about.” 

Alt Text is not present for this image, Taking dc:title 'news-2-rmit-vietnam-launches-new-bachelor-of-business' Students from Design Thinking for Business class with Professor Cathryn Nolan

Ms. Nolan uses several out-of-the-box activities to break the ice in her class. One popular activity utilises 6-pieces of yellow and red Lego bricks. Students are simply asked to make a duck, and even though everyone has the same resources and the same instructions it’s rare for two ducks to be the same.  Based on all the different combinations available, a whopping 9 million different ducks can be created in theory.   

“It’s a quick and fun insight into how we all think differently, and the value of working with other diverse and intelligent thinkers,” Ms. Nolan confides. “It starts one’s creative confidence, and when making the duck, we use our memory, fine motor skills, imagination, and we may even use a bit of emotion if we take a look to see what others are making and start to second guess ourselves.”  

Each time Ms. Nolan visits Vietnam, she takes back new knowledge to Australia. “I take a structured approach to creativity and the transfer of knowledge,” she affirms. “In class, there are creative business people and creatives who are strong in business. I have something to gain from both. Although in the teacher-student dynamic, particularly in Vietnam, I feel that students trust me from the very beginning, I know I’m going to push them in ways that will make them feel a little uncomfortable and I don’t do that lightly.  I do it because I want them to learn and find new ways of navigating an increasingly complex world. Having said that, I enjoy challenging the status quo – and learning is not a one-way street!  I learn so much every time I visit.”


Related News