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The Design of Business by Roger Martin

Posted: September 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Book Summaries, Business Design | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comentarios »

How long the summer can be and how many issues you have to cope with when you move with your family to another country! At last I have 15 minutes to write a brief review of The Design of Business by Roger Martin.

In his book Martin aims to reconcile the innovation -exploration of new knowledge- with efficiency -the exploitation of current knowledge. From his point of view the main objective of design-thinking is to help knowledge go through the stages of mystery -an unsolved problem-, heuristic -a rule of thumb leading to a solution-, and algorithm -a repicable success formula. The design-thinking firms focus on the first stage, dealing always with new challenges and exploring new ways. The mainly analytical thinking companies are built to operate as they always have; they are built to maintain the status quo.

Martin adds that not every mystery can become an algorithm. Mysteries are expensive, time consuming, and risky; they are worth tackling only because of the potential benefits of discovering a path to a revenue-generating heuristic; on the other hand, heuristics don’t guarantee success but at least they can increase the probability and the speed of getting to a successful outcome.

From Martin’s perspective companies that devote all their resources to reliability lack the tools to pursue outocomes that are valid; i.e. that produce a desired result. A business that is overweighted toward reliability will set up organizational structures and processes that drive out the pursuit of valid answers to new questions. Such organizations inevitably come to see maintenance of the status quo as an end in itself, short-circuiting their ability to design and redesign themselves ongoing. The three main forces which converge to enshrine realibility and marginalize validity are the demand that an idea is proved before it is implemented, an aversion to bias, and the constraint of time.

The design thinker has to get comfortable delving into the mystery, trying to see new things or to see things in a new way. He is a specialist in solving wicked problems. These problems, according to C. West Churchman, are a class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing. Upon dealing with wicked problems, understanding them is central; solutions, secondary.

Finally Roger Martin states to create an environment that balances reliability and validity, a business needs to think differently about three elements of its organization: its structures, its processes, and its cultural norms. A design-thinking organization would function more like project-based activity system to tackle large undertakings. When the project is finished, the team disbands, reforming in a different configuration suited to the next task. Thus collaboration is the main asset.

3 Comments on “The Design of Business by Roger Martin”

  1. 1 Tom Ritchey said at 1:35 am on September 30th, 2012:

    Re: Wicked Problems, you might like to know about this recent publication:

    “Wicked Problems – Social Messes: Decision support Modelling with Morphological Analysis”. Springer, 2011.

    You can see a description at:


    Tom Ritchey

  2. 2 Domingo said at 5:19 am on September 30th, 2012:

    Thanks, Dr. Ritchey, for reading my post and providing some useful link to keep on deeping on wicked problems.
    It would be great to read your book but, since my budget is currently a little bit tight, I guess I will be satisfied just with reading the .pdf. Therefore in the coming months there will be a post on GMA in my blog. I hope you like it.

    Kind regards,


  3. 3 » Blog Archive » Wicked Problems and General Morphological Analysis (GMA) said at 9:24 pm on November 1st, 2012:

    […] I mentioned in my previous post The Design of Business, wicked problems are ambiguous, evolving, associated with moral, social and political issues and […]