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The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger Martin

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger Martin

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage By Roger MartinThe Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage

By Roger Martin
Harvard Business Press, 2009


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5 stars: Stop what you're doing and read this book!

In this solid and cutting-edge book, Roger Martin redresses the imbalance that has crept into strategic management. He argues that analysis has taken over at the expense of validated intuition, creativity, tenacity, and focus. He provides a compact framework for understanding the potential of what he calls, “design thinking,” the way a business can strategically re-invent itself. It is essential reading for CEOs, specialists, and employees alike.

Design thinking is an approach in which an organization continuously addresses emerging, yet poorly understood, changes in customer needs, technology, and/or the competitive environment and successfully positions itself with a sustainable, competitive advantage. To illustrate, consider a company that, over years of continual growth in revenues and margins, has learned to rely on rigorous performance analysis and incremental improvements to set goals and accurately predict results. Now, as sales are stagnating and margins have slipped, it is clear that they need a fresh approach. The question is how to make it happen.

Coincidentally, Martin illustrates one of my favorite aphorisms, “If you decide in advance what you are going to do, you are likely to discover what you already knew.” He shows that this idea not only puzzles individuals, but also generates conflict in organizations. On the one hand, those individuals who are entrenched in analytical and reliability-focused decision-making are likely to call this nonsense. For them, “If you don’t control, you can’t be sure to meet the demands of investors and analysts.” By contrast, the validity-oriented people see that if you just stick to the tried and proven method, you can’t possibly come up with something that is truly innovative and really “on-target.”

Design thinking is necessary, especially for companies that have become overly committed to reliability in preference to validity. These are companies that pursue exploitation over exploration, mastery versus originality, and analytical thinking over intuitive thinking. In each of these polarities, of course, an appropriate balance of both sides is essential to create and seize opportunities and not succumb to emerging competition.

Martin builds on detailed examples from diverse companies that have used design thinking well such as Apple, McDonalds, Cirque du Soleil, Herman Miller, and P&G. Each of these companies developed its balance differently, yet all have succeeded in various ways. It is clear that in each case design thinking, in addition to courage and commitment, were required. Their successes were neither easy to achieve nor assured.

Though much of the book addresses corporate-level approaches for developing design thinking, the final chapter makes it personal. Here, Martin links to his previous book, The Opposable Mind (reviewed, GBR, 2008, Volume II, Issue I). For your own learning and development, don’t miss this chapter. It adds perspective to the previous book and shows how development of one’s personal knowledge system of stance (how you view the world), tools, and experience accrues the sensitivity and skill required for design thinking. It shows how the key design tools of one’s observation, imagination, and configuration can be enhanced. Finally, the book gives you worthwhile suggestions on how you can work effectively with colleagues who hold opposing views on design and change issues.

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