The genesis of The Useful MBA™ is from way back in 2006 when I started my own MBA education journey. I found the particular range of topics that were made available to me as helpful — especially coming from a technology and design background, or what I like to call a “maker” tendency over a “talker” one. 

Today I find there are more hybrid Maker/Talkers and Talker/Makers out there who are thriving in this new digital business era. But the “pure” Makers and “pure” Talkers seem to be getting left behind, and with their only remedy being to get an MBA or an MFA, and also an MS in Computer Science. That’s all possible if you have the time and money to get to do so. But if you don’t …

*Neuroscience-Powered Learning

Since Dr. Barbara Oakley (via NYT) introduced the world to neuroscience-powered learning with her seminal “Learning How To Learn” MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in 2014, the education world has started to move how the brain works at the center of how a student can best learn. Dr. Oakley’s work has inspired me to “relearn” how teaching (and learning) works, and The Useful MBA™ represents a significant upgrade compared with my old process of teaching grad and undergrad students back in my early MIT days … by just winging it :-/. I’ve also incorporated the work of McTighe and Willis on using the UbD (Understanding by Design) approach to “understanding understanding,” practices from theology education integrating neuroscience as framed by Elmer and Duane, and work on “mirror neurons” as used in the learning domain by Dickerson, Gerhardstein, Moser.  Lastly, I’ve added a dash of work by Richard Saul Wurman on understanding from his work entitled “33,” as well as his LATCH  and ANOSE musings.

Neuroscience Learnings Playlist — New Notes Drop In Regularly

†AI-Powered Learning

Given that anyone can use AI with resources like AWS AI, and more recently with magical resources like OpenAI that use so-called “large language models,” demonstrating the thesis of The Useful MBA™ with AI made a great deal of sense. But with a focus on being careful to use what AI is really good at — the art and science of prediction. We often use prediction to smooth a student’s learning journey by suggesting what they might want to learn next via a “Recommended Next Lesson.” We should expect to see the predictive capabilities of AI extended even further in the years to come as we better understand how to create a unique and deep understanding of the learner and their needs.

How To Speak Machine: Gentle Introduction to AI/ML in 6 Parts

I felt this most strongly back in 2015 when I was at Kleiner Perkins and met the company Newsela — which had an unusual approach to growing literacy by taking news content and making it comprehensible at the appropriate level of the child reading it. Traditionally the same news article would given to all the kids in the same classroom to be read and understood — but that approach assumed that all of the students had the same level of reading capabilities. Newsela’s AI would build different “levels” and “sublevels” of the same story content to be more appropriate to the reader themself. So it was an interesting flip on the idea of using prediction to move you along to the next story, and instead to predict the level of comprehension for the articles so that the readers could get the most out of the story at hand. It felt like using AI more for the NOW instead of the all-important NEXT. Because you can’t really progress if you’re not able to be fully present in the now. So in short, The Useful MBA™’s approach to using AI in learning is to enhance one’s intimacy with material by getting very present with the content and as close as possible to you and your immediate needs.

Backstory to “The Useful MBA”

So I was at a fancy lunch gathering in Silicon Valley while being the president of a university — and I was clueless to what everyone was talking about. I mean, I’m not a dumb-dumb given what I’ve done with my life thus far. But I definitely felt out of touch with the way that digital technology and the startup landscape was changing the planet. And I found that all the folks who were so much younger than me knew so much more than I did about how the world was changing.

My expertise about the past was still valuable, because the present is built upon what came before. Yet it wasn’t useful enough for the speed at which change was happening in tech. Thus I began a journey that included escaping academia to work as a partner in venture capital, jumping deep into the world of “remote work” way before the pandemic, retraining as a software developer to build things in the cloud, redeveloping my notions about leadership on the World Economic Forum’s leadership council, relearning everything I knew about design even though my work sits comfortably in the MoMA collection, and rebooting my hands-on knowledge of artificial intelligence from MIT in the pioneering 80s as recast in the age of machine learning in the disruptive right here and now.

I’ve taken everything I’ve learned in my life from the technology industry as a practitioner, executive, and board member, combined with my past life as a professor at MIT and president of RISD. And the net result is “The Useful MBA” — which is everything useful that I know combined with everything (seemingly) useless that I know from my knowledge of how things were, and to how they are now.

Why might “The Useful MBA” be useful to you? Because as every artist knows when they draw an apple, you never just draw the apple with your eyes. You draw the apple with your mind, and the knowledge that an apple comes to be from its origin as an apple blossom. The flowers on an apple tree have five petals, and that core structure is what makes the apple grow as a pentagonal solid. Don’t believe me? Just cut the apple in half to find the pentagon that’s hidden inside. By the same token, you can better understand the technological revolutions happening today by knowing how they actually came to be. Armed with that knowledge, you might be able to navigate the rapidly changing future just a little better. At least that is my hope if you earn The Useful MBA.

John Maeda

About John

  • Pioneered generative art and computational design approach for commercial applications while at MIT.
  • Experienced leader across consumer and enterprise technology businesses at the operational, executive, and board levels.
  • 1st recipient of White House’s National Design Award for code-generated design.
  • Noted book author, online influencer, and investor in diverse startups.


American technologist and product experience leader. Early catalyst for generative art and computational design for cultural + commercial applications across Web2 and Web3. First recipient of White House’s National Design Award for algorithmically-generated visualizations informed by data. Represented in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC and the Cartier Foundation, Paris. Design credits include computational calendars in Java for Shiseido, lighting and furniture for Sawaya y Moroni, footwear and streetwear line for Reebok.

Maeda is to design what Warren Buffett is to finance.”

—Wired Magazine

Currently serving as VP of Design and Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft. Formerly Everbridge Chief Technology Officer, Sonos board of directors, Wieden+Kennedy board of directors, Kleiner Perkins design partner, MIT Media Lab data visualization lead, Automattic head of design + inclusion, Publicis Sapient executive vice president and chief experience officer, and 16th president/ceo of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Early investor in Canva, Walker & Co, Typeform, Negative, Superheroic, Tatcha, Flexport, Crave, Superpedestrian, Ipsy, Nylas, littleBits, Radical Candor, Voxel8 to advance greater startup diversity.

Author of five books including a gentle intro to AI/ML “How To Speak Machine” and the tech bestseller of 2006 “Laws of Simplicity.” Solo art exhibitions held in Tokyo (John Maeda: POST-DIGITAL), Paris (John Maeda: NATURE), London (John Maeda: MYSPACE). Writings, interviews, or talks include WSJ, NYT, TED, BBC, WEF, COP, CNN, The Economist, Forbes, USA Today, Fortune, Fast Company, Esquire. Honors include three honorary doctorate degrees, Esquire 75 Most Influential of the 21st Century, Tribeca Film Festival Disruptor Award for launching the STEM to STEAM movement in the US, White House National Design Award, Fast Company Masters of Innovation, Blouin Foundation Creative Leadership Prize, AIGA Medal, TIME Best Twitter 140, Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame Inductee, The Fortune Social Register, Raymond Loewy Foundation Prize, Alliance Graphique Internationale Member, and LinkedIn Top 10 US Influencer.

About Julie

  • Launched 7 new-to-the-world products over the last 12 years across healthcare, mobile marketing, financial services, and additive manufacturing.
  • Veteran of multiple start-ups. Also, Deloitte and Wayfair.
  • Stanford Symbolic Systems – Human Computer Interaction, and Harvard MBA.