13 July 2012
Jesse Grimes
Jesse Grimes

Designers in suits: Roger Martin

In this series of posts, we’ll take a look at icons in the business world who lead the way in proclaiming the importance of design in creating business value. Today’s post focuses on Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management for the last thirteen years.

Martin – who studied economics and earned an MBA at Harvard – has been widely recognized for his thought leadership in several areas of business, such as business strategy, board-level issues of governance and compensation, and social innovation. However he’s earned our praise through a dedication to promoting “design thinking” at the highest levels of business.

According to Martin:

Design Thinking balances analytical thinking and intuitive thinking, enabling an organization to both exploit existing knowledge and create new knowledge. A design-thinking organization is capable of effectively advancing knowledge from mystery to heuristic to algorithm, gaining a cost advantage over its competitors along the way. And with that cost advantage, it can redirect its design thinking capacity to solve the next important mystery and advance still further ahead of its competitors. In this way, the design-thinking organization is capable of achieving lasting and regenerating competitive advantage.”

If design thinking lies behind the outstanding success of some businesses, why hasn’t it been adopted more widely? In short, it implies a forced marriage between two styles of thinking that are usually poles apart: The “analytical” thought of business-people and the “intuitive” thought of creatives and designers.

I am devoted to helping companies, who tend to be ruled by analytical thinking, integrate into their thinking pattern, the best of intuitive thinking, which is typically the thinking pattern of artists and designers. Analytical thinkers tend to see ‘creatives’ as potentially useful but quite scary because they don’t understand how ‘creatives’ think – if they think at all! And creatives tend to see business-people as closed to new and potentially powerful ways of looking at things. As a consequence, they are more inclined to fight with or detach from one another – not utilize one another’s unique capability. Neither understands that each needs one another. Analytical thinking is great for exploiting knowledge within the existing stage – i.e. refining an existing heuristic or honing a current algorithm. Intuitive thinking is great for advancing knowledge to the next stage – i.e. exploration of mysteries to make them heuristics or heuristics to make them algorithms.

In 2010, Martin was named by Business Week magazine as one of the 27 most influential designers in the world – an accolade all the more surprising because his career and audiences have been far-removed from the typical “creative” world populated by designers and agencies.

To learn more about his take on design thinking, in his own words and voice, here are some selected works of his (more of which can be found on his website):

Paper: “Design & Business: Why Can’t We Be Friends?” [PDF] (Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 28, No.4, 2007)

Post: “The Positive Spiral: Six Keys to Success” (BusinessWeek Online’s Innovation Channel, 2007)

Article: “Designing Interactions at Work: Applying Design to Discussions, Meetings and Relationships” (Interactions.org – with Jennifer Riel – 2010)

Book: “The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage” (Harvard Business School Press, 2009)

Roger Martin in Conversation with Bruce Nussbaum at Parsons The New School for Design” (November 12, 2009)

The author

Jesse Grimes is an editor of Touchpoint, and has twelve years experience as an interaction designer and consultant, now specialising in service design. He has worked in London, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf and Sydney, and is now based in The Netherlands with Dutch design agency Informaat.

Design (17), Design thinking (15)