Sunday, May 02, 2010

Book Review: "The Design of Business" by Roger Martin

One of the most interesting and surprising developments in design and particularly design thinking has happened at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Few if any other business schools have payed any attention to design as a potential philosophy of inquiry and action suitable for management. The Dean at the Rotman School is Roger Martin who has been instrumental and the force behind this development. Being a professor of strategic management he has pushed the school to adopt design thinking as a major approach when it comes to business strategy and management. He has earlier developed some of his ideas in the book "The Opposable Mind" (2007, and is now continuing to formulate his thoughts and approach in his new book "The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage".

This is a book whose audience is primarily people in the world of business and who do not know design thinking but might have heard the buzz. It is quite interesting to see how Martin takes on the challenge to introduce design thinking in a world dominated by other and strong traditional forms of thinking. Martin does a good job by introducing design thinking as a way to move business from the reliance on what he calls "reliability" to the realm of "validity". He also introduces his "funnel of knowledge" which is a simple model describing how humans approach a problem and transforms a situation into reliable actions.

I think the book might be of value to those in business who are interested in this new thing "design thinking", but for people who are knowledgeable of design, design thinking, design theory and design research, the book does not really add anything new, which is fine since that is not the purpose. The purpose is to reach those who are involved in traditional business and management approaches and theories, and for that purpose the book probably does well.

For anyone who is alsready into design thinking, the book is very easy to read and gives some interesting and good cases of how to go about when bringing design thinking into large and traditional companies. This aspect of the book is also of great use for already accomplished design thinkers since they might not be aware of the existing and sometime contradictory ways of doing things dominating the corporate world. It can help designers to be more aware of the existing culture, to understand why that culture don't understand or easily can accept a design approach, etc.

Overall, I see this book as a sign of a change going on in the traditional business world. I am quite sure Martin and his school will be followed by many. I am sure that management will adopt design thinking as one possible and valid approach to change among others. We should all be thankful to the work done by Martin to push for this and for his work in making this happen.


Anonymous said...

I would love to know what evidence you have that, "One of the most interesting and surprising developments in design and particularly design thinking has happened at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto." That's certainly what Roger Martin and his pr machine would like people to believe, but do you know what curriculum supports the assertion? how many faculty "buy in" to the concept of design thinking? I doubt it...there's a lot of talk and very little action. That may be why you found very little new to learn in the text. Sorry to be so negative, but in the instance of Rotman and Dean Martin it is absolutely a case of people repeating what others have said (Bruce Nussbaum/Businessweek and Fast Company, among others) without questioning whether it's true. I don't doubt that Martin believes in design...he just isn't doing--or reinventing--anything significant with it at Rotman.

Erik Stolterman Bergqvist said...

Well, I can't say I do know how things are in the Rotman school, so my claim might have been too positive, however, I know that Martin's engagement in design, his writings, have had quite an influence among business people and colleagues in other schools.