As advancements in neuroscience, social media, and technology transform industries across the globe, Columbia Business School stays a step ahead by equipping students with powerful strategies to ideate, influence, and disrupt as business leaders.

Even the brightest minds and most promising students can stumble as leaders if they don’t know how to surface valuable ideas, influence others, and make the most of fast-changing technology. This integrated approach to business leadership is part of the school’s rigorous, trailblazing curriculum.

Through their dynamic courses, professors prepare students to become leaders who think creatively, influence widely, and disrupt industries with skill. The three innovative examples spotlighted here provide students with strategies to create sound entrepreneurial ideas, harness social media to secure competitive job offers, and apply leading-edge technology to advance in their careers.

Napoleon’s Glance: Developing Strategic Intuition

Professor William Duggan, senior lecturer in business, says it would be difficult to find any historical writings about how to create an entrepreneurial idea — that 1 percent of effort that’s essential to launching a business venture. What entrepreneurs do before and after they think of their ideas constitutes the other 99 percent.

Fortunately, modern neuroscience, specifically learning and memory, supports the 1 percent of effort to formulate good ideas, says Duggan, who has authored three books about innovation. His elective course explores how to creatively ideate, using a slice of history from the French Revolution to provide some context.

“We now know a lot about how creative ideas happen in the human mind, so by understanding how it works, you can learn to do it better,” says Duggan. “That’s the key here: how you get a good idea versus just any idea.”

The type of thinking Duggan promotes is what he calls strategic intuition. It’s at the heart of the course, Napoleon’s Glance.

Duggan uses 10 instructional tools to open up the mind to creative ideation, potentially helping students in their personal and professional lives. “I show a lot of examples so people can see how this works from all different angles,” says Duggan. “I go into personal strategy. What does this mean for ideas for my life, my career, not just my company?” He notes its importance to entrepreneurs, who are making both a personal and professional decision when they decide to launch a business.

Napoleon and Joan of Arc

Duggan knew that learning and memory were natural to human behavior — they account for the development of good ideas and innovations since the beginning of civilization. He wondered if anyone else had described strategic intuition before neuroscience began to explain it.

“It's by chance that I found the word strategy entered the English language in the year 1810, which is very late for ordinary English words,” says Duggan, “This seemed odd to me, so I looked it up, and it turned out it had a military origin.”

Duggan explains that Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his success in 1810. He was England’s big challenge, and the English started studying military strategy to defeat Napoleon. “This was the start of a formal academic discipline taught in universities,” says Duggan. The famous scholar of that era was Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, who's book On War is still in print. “When you carefully read his book, he describes something that is actually very similar to this later neuroscience.”

When the mind is clear, it’s more open to receiving flashes of insight, and that is when things come together. “It’s a sudden insight that shows a person what action to take. It’s not magic; it's based on real elements of your mind,” says Duggan.

“One of the examples I show in class is that for a very important upcoming battle, Napoleon had drawn from something Joan of Arc did in her most famous battle. That came to him from his memory. He paused to let his mind wander to everything in his memory. And then, Napoleon hit upon an action Joan of Arc had taken that was now relevant to his problem,” explains Duggan.

Von Clausewitz described the use of this strategic intuition with the French term coup d'œil, which means glance. And that’s where Napoleon’s Glance comes from.

For decades, the dominant method of creative ideation has been brainstorming. The theory goes that the right side of the brain generates creative ideas spontaneously. Duggan explains: “The new science tells us there is no right side of the brain when it comes to thinking, and that creative ideas come from a slower piecing together of elements from memory. This course teaches methods more in keeping with that new science. If you ask successful entrepreneurs, ‘How’d you get that original idea?’ they will almost never tell you it was from brainstorming.”

Digital Literacy for Decision Makers: Smart Messaging for Entrepreneurs

“I kinda love Etsy.” This four-word tweet sparked an 8 percent stock market spike for the online retailer in January 2021 because it was written by someone with an immense following on Twitter: business mogul Elon Musk.

When a tweet can motivate millions of people to take an action or adopt an ideology, it becomes obvious that gaining an audience equals power and influence.

In today’s digital economy, social media influencers promote everything from fashion to software while thought leaders comment on myriad topics from cybersecurity to sustainability. Learning to use social media technology to share opinions and expertise to engage readers is critical for business leaders and MBAs working to secure that perfect job.

Brett Martin, adjunct assistant professor of business, teaches students how to harness the power of social media through the innovative course Digital Literacy for Decision Makers. Students learn how to get their messages in front of the right audiences, just as marketing managers do when selling products.

“Being invisible is no longer going to be a safe place in the future,” says Martin. “If people look you up on the internet and they don't find anything, that's a red flag.” Individuals with an online presence possess the upper hand over those without a digital identity. The course, says Martin, “gives people a chance to build that identity that gets them hired. I think we are very much helping people futureproof themselves.”

Connecting the Dots

The changes that computers have introduced over the past 50 years have provided expansive business potential, especially for entrepreneurs.  Understanding the changes that digital technologies drive is critical for spotting opportunity, says Martin. His course offers three components that inform and engage students. Students learn “how the sausage is made for technology, how to use timeless principles and frameworks to understand the torrent of tech news, and the ability to participate in the change that's happening all around,” he adds.

Martin mines the tech news of the day to train students how to understand technology’s impact and its relevancy to the concepts he’s teaching. Searching the news cycle, they might focus on the semiconductor industry in Taiwan, or TikTok and AI, or self-driving cars.

“Once you have a little bit of understanding of technology, then you can make sense of the torrent of tech news and trends that you see around you,” says Martin. “You have a set of principles and frameworks to make sense of what seems like a barrage of disparate news.” That’s when students begin to see the connections and how major technology trends are driving that news.

“It's like the semiconductor industry increasing the power of chips, which enables more powerful computation, which is driving advancements in artificial intelligence, powering the algorithms for TikTok and the algorithms that are running self-driving cars,” he says.

In Real Time and in Public

Martin believes two characteristics of the course make it innovative: The material is in real time and students post on the internet. “A big portion of the class is meant to give people the tools to actively participate, whether that's on LinkedIn or on Twitter, or whether that's posting blogs on Medium,” says Martin. “All of their peers can interact with it, which is much more powerful than any sort of one-on-one dialogue between the professor and a student.”

Martin says many students have performed well in the course, writing about interests that relate to their goals. One student, Chris Harper, now a venture capitalist at Torch Capital, wrote about silver tech, or technology for older adults. That resulted in an article published in Forbes and a job as a venture capitalist focused on that area. “He connected the dots,” says Martin.

Anonymity is not an option; but pseudonymity might be. Either way, the more daring the message, the better, says Martin. Being reserved to refrain from potentially riling a prospective employer could have the opposite effect. Martin says that fear puts students at a disadvantage: “The internet favors the bold; social media favors people with interesting and controversial takes, not people who water things down or are afraid of offending someone.”

It's about developing a personal voice and finding an audience and the appropriate channel to distribute the message. “That is exactly what this class is about,” says Martin. “We are literally actively doing that, and the only difference is that you and your thoughts are the product.”

Proptech and Real Estate Disruption: Understanding New Technologies

One of the largest sectors driving the domestic and global economies has also been one of the slowest industries to embrace technology. This is a fact that Tomasz Piskorski, the Edward S. Gordon Professor of Real Estate at Columbia Business School, likes to point out when he talks about his course, Proptech and Real Estate Disruption, which shows how new technology is shaking up an old industry.

“The value of real estate in the U.S. right now is something like $60 trillion, and globally it’s $350 trillion,” says Piskorski. “Real estate accounts globally for two-thirds of real assets in the world, and historically, this sector has not experienced significant technological innovation.”

Commercial real estate has traditionally operated without automation, with most transactions handled within an old-school network that negotiates in person and completes deals on paper. “There's enormous potential here for innovation,” says Piskorski. “Proptech is an aspect of real estate that uses technology to improve the way we construct, manage, and buy and sell real estate assets.”

So, why has real estate entered the digital world so much later than other industries? Piskorski says it comes down to the industry’s longtime reliance on a wealth of established technologies. Now, critical mass and big data collection make it possible to digitize the real estate industry. People with capital are also now more willing to invest in technical innovations that digitize information on assets, location, performance, transaction history, tenants, and more, he says.

According to a December 2020 Forbes report, “The fast-track of property technology in the real estate industry has grown by 1,072 percent from 2015 to 2019, and in 2018, venture capital firms invested $8.3 billion in proptech companies around the world.”

Fintech and Proptech, the Disruptors of Real Estate

In the course, Piskorski covers the property technology companies that are innovating within this space and fintech companies — firms that modify, enhance, or automate financial services — that overlap with them. For example, commercial real estate information and analytics company CoStar was one of the first companies to digitize and aggregate commercial real estate property data. “CoStar is an important part of the data evolution, and a lot of other companies and startups are trying to compete with CoStar or provide additional data,” says Piskorski.

Proptech companies have simplified what was once a lengthy process for selling and leasing commercial properties. “They give you a lot of data that facilitates quick decisions for writing these deals and managing tenants and so on,” says Piskorski.

Students also learn about differing online residential real estate companies like Zillow and Redfin. Redfin is a tech-enabled brokerage with its own agents, while Zillow is a marketplace where consumers browse listings and can connect with agents who advertise on the site. Also aiding homeowners are fintech companies like Quicken Loans, which can provide a quote in milliseconds for refinancing a mortgage because the company owns the necessary data to do that, says Piskorski. “They can give you the rate at which you can refinance your mortgage at 3 a.m. on a Sunday without you having to talk with a human.”

SquareFoot, a tech-enabled commercial real estate brokerage, is pushing toward leasing properties with a simple keyboard click. Piskorski says one of his former students, Jonathan Wasserstrum, is co-founder of the startup. “It’s essentially an operating system for managing all the leasing business for companies. As a byproduct of that, the co-founders hope to launch a market for leasing with the click of a mouse.”

Students’ futures are promising, says Piskorski, because they learn to become tech savvy in the industry. Graduates will be able to lead a company toward better digital solutions either through a third-party proptech or fintech company or by initiating an internal project led by the company’s own technical experts.

Those who want to work in private equity or venture capital will find a ripe investment environment for proptech and fintech. “These businesses are pulling billions of dollars into the space,” says Piskorski, and New York is where all the biggest players in the real estate market are based. In the city where Columbia students thrive, office real estate and wealth are booming.