The Design of Business: A book review by Bob Morris

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Edge
Roger Martin
Harvard Business Press (2009)

I just re-read this book and value it even more now than I did when it was first published. One point I want to make here that I failed to make in a prior review is that the design of business (in fact, the design of anything) requires a mindset that is guided and informed by certain principles that must accommodate both analytical and intuitive issues. Stated another way, how you design is even more important than what you design.

In his latest book, Martin explains why “design thinking is the next competitive advantage.” In fact, it may well be the most valuable application of integrative thinking as explains in his previous book, The Opposable Mind), in part because successful business innovation is the result of collaboration and proceeds through a “path” or (as Martin describes it) a “knowledge funnel.” The model for value creation that he offers in this book requires a balance – “or more accurately a reconciliation – between two prevailing points of view on business today.” One is analytical thinking that “harnesses two familiar forms of logic – deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning – to declare truths and certainties about the world.” The other is intuitive thinking – “the art of knowing without reasoning. This is the world of originality and invention…Neither analysis nor intuition is enough,” however. Martin presents a compelling argument in support of reconciling the two modes of thought, asserting that the most successful businesses in the years to come will balance analytical mastery and intuitive originality “in a dynamic interplay [he calls] design thinking.”

How so? “Design thinking is the form of thought that enables movement along the knowledge funnel, and the firms that master it will gain an inexhaustible, long-term business advantage. The advantage, which emerges from the design-thinking firms’ unwavering focus on the creative design of systems, will eventually extend to the wider world. From these firms will emerge the breakthroughs that move the world forward [because] design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business.” And, I presume to add, because their leaders have mastered integrative thinking, without which creative and productive collaboration cannot be achieved, much less sustained.

So, what is “the design of business”? It is the process by which business leaders apply design thinking within the current knowledge stage and hone and refine what is known so that they can “generate the leap from stage, continuously in a process I call the design of business.” Citing the pioneer insights of Charles Sanders Pierce, Martin duly acknowledges that it is not possible to prove any new thought, concept, or indeed in advance. In fact, “proof” must be redefined and “the answer, Pierce said, would come through making a ‘logical leap of the mind’ or an ‘inference to the best explanation’ to imagine a heuristic for understanding the mystery.”

One final point: The same principles involved when designing a building, for example, or solving a problem should also be involved when first determining the process by which to create a blueprint or reveal a solution.



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