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Learning to Dream Bigger in MMM

Rei Kigoshi (MMM '21) examines why she left her job developing innovative product concepts for aircraft cabins to pursue degrees in business and design innovation.

When I started applying for graduate school, I was looking for opportunities to improve my design skills while expanding my business management knowledge and capabilities. Being able to strengthen my core while exploring new areas in business in the MMM program at Northwestern was something that strongly resonated with me.

Before MMM, I was a designer at aircraft industry specialist Jamco Corporation. The department I was in was responsible for developing innovative product concepts for aircraft cabins, such as business class seats, galleys, and lavatories that would be implemented in commercial aircrafts in 10 to 20 years time. I was also often assigned to projects with international partners which exposed me to trends happening in the industry. The more I talked with partners and attended international expos, the more I felt the need to be able to talk with business leaders around the world. That desire was one of the major factors in me joining the MMM family. 

As I was considering master's and MBA programs, I wanted to make sure I would have many opportunities to broaden my perspective through interactions with my peers. MMM, compared to other US programs, had a good number of female students and international students. Also, knowing that I would be part of the Kellogg School of Management community, which has such a worldwide network, encouraged me to apply.  

The MMM curriculum enables people to be both creative and strategic at the same time — it is getting harder to succeed with just one or the other. We learn to challenge the status quo, approach users with an open eye, strategize, and adapt the operations quickly. As a business manager working in a fast-changing world, agility and ability to capture future trends and understand user needs at a deeper level are necessary while still making sense of how a product or service can grow the business.

Working as an industrial designer, even if I had a good idea for a compelling product, it sometimes lacked viability. Designers are curious creatures by nature, and we occasionally catch future trends intuitively. Our ideas may seem far-fetched, and without the business acumen, it was difficult to articulate to managers and executives who were not designers how the new product could be impactful and profitable at the same time.

This summer, I brought the lessons I've learned so far in MMM to life while interning at i.lab, a small innovation consulting firm in Tokyo that has worked with extremely well-known, large companies in Japan. I worked on planning and preparing workshops for a financial client, helping their team go through a human-centric process without them having prior training. I had never worked in finance, so getting to see the world through the client’s perspective was a great learning experience. I also realized I've built skills to work well in this environment and work with people of diverse backgrounds. During the internship, I was leading a team of undergraduate interns to help with the research process, and I believe having extensive teamwork experience in MMM helped me navigate that successfully.

Looking forward, I would love to continue working in a role that can bridge design and business. I enjoyed diving into industries I never thought of during my past year in MMM and in my internship. In the short term, I think I will go into either strategy consulting with some design-related projects or design consulting and continue to explore how design can help companies in different industries.

In the long-term, it would be interesting to be a chief innovation officer for a global company or launch my own company. I’ve learned to dream bigger in MMM! I would love to continue helping companies innovate and keep working in a global environment.

The biggest goal I had coming into MMM was to be able to advocate for design in a way that makes sense to business leaders. During my time here, I have broadened my perspective and gained business knowledge to determine the right questions to ask, define if a problem is something design can impact, and also figure out business constraints that feed into product design.

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