Roger Martin on “Five Initiatives Needed in a Designer-Unfriendly Environment”

Martin, RIn 1969, Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon noted: “Engineering, medicine, business, architecture, and painting are concerned not with the necessary but with the contingent — not with how things are, but with they might be — in short, with design. Every one designs to devise courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. Design, so construed, is the core of all professional training.”

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In his contribution to Rotman on Design published by University of Toronto Press (2013), Roger Martin observes, “The bottom line is, you don’t need anyone’s permission to think like a designer. But there are five things you need to do if you want to be effective in a designer-unfriendly organization.

1. Take “Design Unfriendliness” on as a Design Challenge: This is the key starting point. Basically, here is an opportunity to design a way (or ways) to overcome resistance to design. Think in terms of incremental progress during negotiations to achieve the ultimate objective. (See #5 below.)

2. Empathize with the “Design Unfriendly” Elements: Use emotional intelligence to “see” (i.e. understand) the situation as the UnFriendlies do, not as you want them to.

3. Speak the Language of Reliability: Beware of Designerspeak (e.g. “visualization,” “prototyping.” “beta testing,” and “novelty”) when communicating with the UnFriendlies. Address concerns about bottom line, proof, certainty, best practices, risk, etc.

4. Use Analogies and Stories: Anchor insights in a human context with a story, one with circumstances with which UnFriendlies can identify.

5. Bite Off as Little a Piece as Possible to Generate Proof: Designers cannot prove in advance that what they propose will succeed. Generate “bits of proof” that suggest being sensitive to bottom line concerns on the way to full deployment of the design idea. Convince the UnFriendlies that you are validity-oriented and welcome reasonable scrutiny.

“Like venture-capital-backed entrepreneurs, design-thinking managers living in “Design Unfriendly” environments need to develop the capacity to create roll-out plans for their ideas that help their organizations ratchet up its confidence, one step at a time.”

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Source: Rotman on Design: The Best on Design Thinking from Rotman Magazine, co-edited by Martin and Karen Christensen and published by University of Toronto Press (2013)

Roger Martin is Dean, Premier’s Research Chair in Productivity & Competitiveness and professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. He is also the author of eight books, the latest Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works: How Strategy Really Works, co-authored with by A.G. Lafley and published by Harvard Business Review Press (2013).

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