Top critical review
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Deep thoughts, descriptions but not enough prescription
on October 30, 2009
The Design of Business by Roger Martin is a thought-provoking book that seeks to probe the reasons behind the current state of business and the new ways of thinking needed to change that state for the better. The book in my opinion is miss-titled as it is more about thinking than design. This does not make it a bad book, but one that will disappoint readers looking for design techniques based on the title.
Martin's thesis centers around a few key concepts including:
The knowledge funnel where ideas and innovations move from exploring mysteries of business and customers, to defining heuristics and finally developing algorithms. While the funnel looks like a traditional innovation process, Martin applies it to aspects of organizational design, behavior and innovation to good effect.
Martin points to the difference between managing businesses for reliability and seeking validity. Reliability concentrates on managing predictable performance, financials, reducing process variance and establishing control. Validity concentrates on learning what is right based more on heuristics and qualitative than quantitative methods. Martin's conjecture is that we need both, but probably need more validity to generate the creativity and innovation needed to survive in a dynamic market.
Design thinking, here Martin borrows Tim Brown of IDEO's definition and makes the connection between design thinking and abductive reasoning which centers around observing data that does not fit with existing models or patterns. Abductive reasoning is in sharp contrast to deductive and inductive thinking that dominant business management.
The case studies on P&G, RIM, Cirque du Soldier are predictable and read more like narrative stories of executive actions rather than an analysis of what these companies did to redesign and innovate in their company. Frankly I have read other authors case studies of these companies and found them more valuable.
The combination of all of this gives me the impression that the book is a set of ideas in search of an application. Now that may sound harsh, but I kept looking for support on how I can apply these ideas by learning from others.
Martin does include a discussion about a personal knowledge system that consists of the way you view the world, the tools you use to organize your thinking and understanding and finally the experience that you need to build your sensitivity skills. The Personal Knowledge system is an example of what I am talking about, good ideas, presented in a clear fashion but without a particular set of next steps or examples of how mere mortals have transformed themselves.
Using Martin's terminology I get his ideas and see them as valid, but I was looking for a little reliability based tools and approaches to turn valid ideas into action and results.
The book presents its ideas in a fairly academic context, discussed more as ideas than recipes or a framework for designing a business. That is a disappointment as the book was recommended to me as a design book.
I recommend the book for people who want to explore the way of thinking and deep systems behind design thinking. I cannot recommend the book for people who are looking to learn about how to apply design thinking. If you are looking for a good design thinking book go to the source Tim Brown's new book Change by Design which has a greater focus on understanding design thinking at an actionable level.