An Interview With Roger Martin

If you were thinking this post was about an interview I conducted with Roger Martin, well, sorry to have misled – though I’d certainly like that opportunity. But the folks at IdeaConnection.com did interview Martin. They produce the weekly Innovation Newsletter which features in depth reviews with many great thought leaders who share their insights into innovation, creativity, teamwork and much more. I subscribe to their weekly e-mail alert which helps me stay on top of the latest interviews. I was pleased to discover a new interview with Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto. “Diving Into Mysteries” is an interview well worth reading even if you have previously read Martin’s books such as The Opposable Mind and the Design of Business.

The bulk of the interview focuses on the themes explored in The Design of Business. It all starts with the mystery. Martin states that “Innovation is taking out of a mystery some form of understanding that enables you to focus on some things rather than others…You extract out of a broad, mysterious cloud the things that help you make sense of what you are seeing. That’s a heuristic. Heuristics are ways of thinking about a mystery that helps us to better understand it…The best innovators recognize mysteries, and are brave enough to dive into them.” If you’ve read the Design of Business this interview will refresh you on the core concepts, and if you’ve not yet had an opportunity to do so it will introduce you to Martin’s perspective on design thinking and introduce you to the knowledge funnel.

Speaking of perspectives on design thinking, I recently attended – for the first time – a webcast sponsored by the Stanford School of Design. I was pleased to become aware of these free learning opportunities (even with the promos for the School’s online workshops – but it is still a great way to hear some excellent speakers). The program I attended was titled “Design Thinking and Peak Performance” (sponsored by the Innovation Masters Series: Design Thinking & the Art of Innovation). I’ve provided the link so you can take a look at the webcast. If you have been following the literature on design thinking most of this will sound familiar to you, but I picked up a few new ideas and thoughts about design thinking.

Given my recent reading of the Martin interview I asked the speakers what their perspective was on what I refer to as the “IDEO School of Thought” on design thinking versus the “Roger Martin School of Thought” on design thinking. While the presenters agreed they could see how one could point to these two different schools of thought, they thought that they actually both emerged from earlier perspectives on design thinking that came out of the Stanford engineering and design program. As the speakers said “There is no difference in the underlying philosophy of design thinking” you have coming out of IDEO or the Rotman School of Business. If there was any difference to which they could point it would be that Martin’s vision of design thinking is oriented more to the world of business. They said it “Reframes our design thinking ideas into business concepts for the folks in the boardroom.” I thought that was a pretty good way to describe the difference. I thought the speakers also provided an excellent description of how to introduce design thinking to your colleagues and implement it for a project for the first time (listen the the Q&A period at the last five minutes of the webcast).

Finally, I came across a new book on design thinking (not out quite yet) titled “Design Thinking: Understand – Improve – Apply.” Since it is possible to “look inside” at Amazon I reviewed the table of contents. It looks like a book I’ll want to at least explore. The surprise I discovered is that the book costs $137 at Amazon. I have to think about this one. If you buy a copy, let me know.

The Design Of Business – And Concerns About “Design Thinking”

Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto, has just authored a new book titled The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage , and I was looking forward to reading it. BusinessWeek has a short article by Martin that shares some ideas from the book, and now I am really looking forward to reading it. In this article Martin talks about two different business models that are in conflict, the analytical (left brain) model and the intuitive (right brain) model. Since neither may ultimately work out, Martin suggests bringing them together in a new model:

The most successful businesses in the years to come will balance analytical mastery and intuitive originality in a dynamic interplay that I call design thinking. Design thinking is the form of thought that enables forward movement of knowledge, and the firms that master it will gain a nearly inexhaustible, long-term business advantage.

It seems to carry forward the ideas Martin discussed in The Opposable Mind. I’ll be glad to read more about this. You can also view a video interview that BusinessWeek conducted with Martin.

And while Martin is promoting his book on design thinking, others are questioning the value of the idea – or at least calling it design thinking. Perter Merholz of Adaptive Path has written a column titled “Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You ” in which he advocates for rethinking the use of “design thinking” as a strategy business can turn to when all else is failing. He writes (in a nicely sarcastic tone):

Design thinking is trotted out as a salve for businesses who need help with innovation. The idea is that the left-brained, MBA-trained, spreadsheet-driven crowd has squeezed all the value they can out of their methods. To fix things, all you need to do is apply some right-brained turtleneck-wearing “creatives,” “ideating” tons of concepts and creating new opportunities for value out of whole cloth.

Merholz finds “design thinking” to be too limiting. It’s not just about design, he says, but about the many different disciplines that are a part of what designers do – and that includes business. He writes, “The supposed dichotomy between “business thinking” and “design thinking” is foolish.”

I think I get what bugs Merholz about design thinking. It’s not just a designer’s backlash over non-designers taking ownership of what designers do without having the required skill set. He seems genuinely concerned that business is taking ownership of a flawed concept, one that may be seen as an end in and of itself – not a part of other strategies that involve many different types of skill sets. The comments to the column are as important to read as the post itself. Here is what I added to the comments:

As a librarian I found it interesting that you chose to mention librarians in your post and that we don’t have anything we refer to as “library thinking”. However, many librarians only think like librarians when it comes to developing solutions to problems. Too often that means assuming you know – because you are a librarian – that you understand users and know what they need. There is little investment in spending time to really identify the problem. I have found design thinking a useful model process for learning how designers approach problems and develop solutions. One of the most important things I’ve learned from watching the “Deep Dive” video is that great solutions emerge from interdisciplinary teams, and that is a real challenge in libraries because we all tend to think the same way – but we also all have different disciplinary backgrounds – but we may fail to use those approaches when we have a problem. So I have found it helpful to share the idea of design thinking with my library colleagues – not as an end in itself – but as a means to some other end – be it understanding a problem and developing an appropriate solution or working towards a better library experience for the end user.

I would hate to see the community that is interested in design thinking get into feud over what it is, who can practice it, when it’s accurate to use it or not, or whatever sort of issues might come up. As one commenter pointed out, it’s still a concept in development. I look forward to future opportunities to learn more about design thinking and how we can apply it in our libraries – as opposed to whatever we do now – which I guess you’d call “library thinking.”

Instead Of Picking Model A Or Model B Create Model C

To gain some additional perspectives on design thinking take a look at this video interview with Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto. In the video Rotman answers questions about integrative thinking, which is a term Martin uses to describe design thinking. I’ve written about Martin before, especially in wanting to share ideas about his “opposable mind”, and how it is a way of using design thinking to identify new solutions when existing models may not be appropriate for a given situation. Martin talks more about this in the video, which only runs about five minutes.

One of the reasons I seek to further explore the development of the opposable mind is because the library profession presents a good number of complexities and situations for which standard models and solutions are ineffective. One of the most challenging elements of my job is trying to develop good solutions when a simple option A or B won’t work. At those times I think back to Martin and his stories about thinkers who were able to see new solutions that others didn’t see. And being a design thinker doesn’t mean being a lone creative genius who gets hit with lightning bolts of great ideas. Coming up with Model C requires involving one’s colleagues and exploring multiple dimensions of a problem situation.

In the last few months I’ve come across a number of different reports, blog posts, e-mail news items and discussion board entries that all, in one way or another, suggest the demise of libraries. Most will conclude with something along the lines of “libraries have got to change the way they do business or they won’t be around long” but without saying much about what to do. I think similar concerns about turmoil in the world of business lead Martin to develop and share his approach called integrative thinking, and to make design thinking a core educational value for MBA students at the Rotman School. Librarians who will successfully lead their organizations through these challenging times may well be the ones who use integrative thinking to develop Model C.

Additional video to watch: A few months back I shared news about an interesting article in a magazine called Seed. Written by Paolo Antonelli, this article described the idea of the elastic mind. Those with elastic minds are moving past adaptability. Turns out Antonelli spoke about the elastic mind at TED and they have made the video available on their site. She talks more about the interaction of scientists and research scientists.