PolyU - Designing the Future

PolyU’s EMIL programme uses design thinking to foster innovation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 9:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 9:05am

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Business innovation is no longer just a “nice to have” concept. It’s become a necessity required to drive sustainable organisations, support ground-breaking strategies, and turn new ideas into competitive advantages.  The Executive Master in Innovation Leadership (EMIL), which launched last year at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), covers all these aspects and more.

Professor Cees de Bont, Dean and Swire Chair Professor of School of Design at PolyU, says the EMIL programme has been carefully structured to provide a balance between design, business, creativity, and innovation. “Our high-level, high-impact, interdisciplinary EMIL programme helps students to reach the next level of leadership and management,’’ says de Bont. The professor adds that the programme also enables students to embrace fresh ideas, along with the multi-dimensional thinking that leads to meaningful contributions in organisations and society. “When design principles are applied to strategy and innovation, the potential success rate for innovation improves dramatically,’’ says de Bont.

The professor says the EMIL programme is relevant to the challenges and opportunities Hong Kong faces, and will prepare students for the demands of the future. For instance, interdisciplinary courses explore how innovations can cut across established sectors to improve all-round performance. The professor says innovation has a crucial role to play in advancing Hong Kong’s value chain across many areas, including finance, tourism, education, and healthcare. “Innovation has a big part to play in improving existing processes to propel Hong Kong’s edge as a top quality 21st-century global city,’’ de Bont says.

The EMIL programme provides participants with opportunities to develop broader thinking skills and engage in self-reflection. De Bont identifies these to be the prerequisites of effective leadership, that generate the ability to discover, develop, and test ideas and solutions that can result in positive changes. ‘’Instead of approaching projects in a random way, students learn how to analyse and evaluate risk using more holistic perspectives. They can harness the power of innovation to transform ideas into a commercial or social success,’’ says de Bont.  The professor also believes those executives and managers who have a good understanding of what innovation means, become more effective inside their organisations. They also become happier, more fulfilled, individuals, he says.

Design thinking, design methods, and design perspectives are applied throughout the 18-month part-time programme, which is offered on Friday evenings and Saturdays.  ‘’Our programme is acknowledged by the deans of many top design schools as offering something special and unique,’’ says de Bont. PolyU is regarded as the number one design school in Asia, so visiting design experts, leading academics, thought leaders, and industry experts are willing to share their knowledge through presentations to EMIL students.    

The EMIL programme is hosted by the PolyU’s School of Design, and is supported by a professional team from the Institute of Advanced Executive Education (IAEE) as the executive arm. It leverages on the expertise and industry experiences of other PolyU departments, including the School of Accounting and Finance, the Department of Management and Marketing, and the Department of English.  Potential candidates include executives from any industry or professional discipline who have at least 10 years’ experience at a senior level.  The programme is suited to executives who wish to improve their innovation and leadership skills to address the integrative challenges of the business world. Classes and lectures take place in the PolyU Jockey Club Innovation Tower, which was designed by the late world famous architect Zaha Hadid.

EMIL student  Y. H. Cheung, an engineer with over 40 years of experience in professional, administrative and managerial positions, says the programme provides a rich experience that has exceeded his expectations. “I can’t think of any other high-level academic programme where you would find students from so many diverse areas who interact so constructively, while benefitting from the knowledge and experience provided by a world-class faculty,’’ says Cheung, who also serves as a Kowloon City District Councillor (Hung Hom Bay Constituency).  The current cohort includes different nationalities who work as directors, CFO, senior managers, entrepreneurs, marketing specialists, environmentalists and an executive coach.

“I have become friends with some of my classmates, and the diverse topics we have covered in-depth have given me new perspectives,’’ says Cheung. The Councillor adds that his communication skills have notably improved during the programme. Inspired and motivated by the EMIL programme, Cheung has set plans in motion to promote Hong Kong as  centre for Chinese Penjing (the origin of Japanese Bonsai) exhibitions and appreciation. “I believe that within five to ten years, Hong Kong could be a hub for Penjing activities.  While this will attract a new type of tourists, it will also create job opportunities for us, especially for the young people of Hong Kong’’ says Cheung.

“Every class is a mind-opening exercise. Classes are intriguing, groundbreaking, and stimulating,” Cheung says. Students learn from internationally acknowledged designers, innovators and business leaders, as well as PolyU professors. Visiting Professor Yesha Sivan, Executive Director of the Coller Institute of Venture, Tel Aviv University, is the Founder of Metaverse Labs (MVL), a think tank which connects virtual and real worlds. The professor is also renowned for developing solutions for corporate, hi-tech and 3D3C real virtual worlds.  The international visiting faculty members include Professor Ezio Manzini, Chair Professor of University of the Arts, London, Professor Kees Dorst, from the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, whose research focuses on creating understanding of the areas between design, philosophy and the business sciences.

Michael Harris Bond, Visiting Chair Professor at the Department of Management and Marketing, is known for discoveries in social psychology which focus on Chinese interpersonal processes in a multi-cultural space. Other classes are taught by writer and columnist Nury Vittachi, and Dr Dong Chen, former Vice President and China Economist, J.P. Morgan Private Bank.  Guy Parsonage, Partner, The Experience Centre of PwC also gives classes.

Georgina Chan, Director of Institute of Advanced Executive Education of PolyU, says the EMIL programme is not simply another design programme. “The EMIL is carefully crafted to empower, challenge, and support senior executives through a transformative experience,’’ says Chan. She says transformation involves the development and implementation of strategic ideas that create a culture that fosters innovation within organisations. “These are the skills and values recognised as necessary for individuals to advance their careers and empower those they lead. These individuals add value to the organisations they work for, as well as the communities they interact with,’’ says Chan.

The School of Design recently hosted Customer Experience Innovation: The Way for Business Survival and Success, a forum designed to generate awareness of the course.  Customer-centered innovation and design expert Elaine Ann, president and CEO of Kaizor Innovation, provided insights on why companies in Hong Kong and the mainland need to base their innovations on their unique cultural strengths. EMIL student O.M. Chan, Chief Financial Officer for the Lane Crawford Joyce Group, explained how the EMIL programme helped him unleash his potential. 

Those interested can discover more about the EMIL programme by attending an information session to be delivered by Prof. Cees de Bont on June 4 at the Jockey Club Innovation Tower, where they can meet faculty members and students ( Click for Info Session flyer ). Upcoming EMIL Forum, Empower Your Identity and Personal Brand through LinkedIn, will be held on 7 June evening in PolyU ( Click forEMIL Forum flyer ). For more details on EMIL, please visit