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Cutting Through the Digital Clutter

Microsoft's Mike Edmonds received the 2023 Cole-Higgins Award for Excellence in Teaching for his work teaching Mindful Product Management in Northwestern's MBA + MS Design Innovation (MMM) program.

To Mike Edmonds, receiving Northwestern Engineering’s Cole-Higgins Award for Excellence in Teaching matters most because of how he was chosen – by his students.

Edmonds is one of six faculty members to receive this year's Cole-Higgins Award. He is an adjunct lecturer who teaches the Mindful Product Management course in Northwestern's MBA + MS Design Innovation (MMM) program — a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management. 

Mike Edmonds“The fact that students took the time to cite Mindful Product Management as a highlight of the MMM experience is such an honor,” said Edmonds, who is senior director of strategy for worldwide retail, consumer goods, and gaming at Microsoft. “Collaborating with students in the MMM program brings me fulfillment, energy, and reminds me why I love the work I do.” 

Edmonds’ course is a reflection of technology’s rapid evolution. The flood of new technological gadgets over the past quarter-century has created what Edmonds calls “digital clutter,” making it more important than ever for product managers to create new offerings that are useful and fulfilling for individuals and communities.  

A key characteristic of successful product managers is they are empathetic to customers and their needs, Edmonds said. 

One student who recommended Edmonds for the award said in a nomination: “Professor Edmonds is one of the most engaging and empathetic professors I've had across both my undergraduate and graduate academic experiences. Not only is he passionate and knowledgeable about the subject he's teaching, but he thoughtfully designed the course in a way that provided us the opportunity to learn from him, other experts in the space, and our classmates, while also learning about ourselves in the process.” 

Edmonds has been teaching the Mindful Project Management course for five years. The goal of the class is to help students become expert leaders of high-performing product teams by growing their skills in human-centered design and storytelling.  

The purpose of the course is more than mere academics, he said.  

“What I love about being an adjunct is the ability to focus on the pragmatic. What is happening in industry with customers and companies outside of the walls of Northwestern?” he said. “If students can take the things we learn in class and have the confidence to practice them in their current or future jobs, Mindful Product Management will continue to be a success.”  

To help students achieve the course’s goal, Edmonds brings in his own experiences from his professional career.  

At Microsoft, where he leads strategy for data, generative artificial intelligence (AI), and Microsoft’s Cloud for Retail, he often collaborates with the largest retail and consumer-goods companies in the world to gain a better understanding of their pain points and decipher unmet opportunities.  

“There definitely is no such thing as an average day,” he said. “My job is to inspire our customers to see the art of the possible and to identify actionable ways to realize value over the near term.”  

That increasingly includes the integration of AI. Edmonds said he strongly emphasizes the point that this movement isn’t about technology taking over for humans but rather becoming partners with humans to move forward ethically, responsibly, and usefully.  

“For AI to have a net positive impact on humanity, we need to be explicit with the role AI can play in amplifying our potential,” he said. “At Microsoft, we emphasize the importance of moving from autopilot to copilot. Copilots work alongside us, helping to unleash creativity, unlock productivity, and uplevel skills.”

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