Design Thinking

Courtesy of AFR BOSS and UTS, I enjoyed hearing Roger Martin – Dean of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management  – talk about design thinking yesterday.  I especially liked hearing his experiences as a consultant with business managers and their reliability focus.  It seems that the killer question that is asked of any new innovative recommendation is “can you prove it works?”, which is, of course impossible ahead of time.  So Martin has a neat way of turning the future into the past, as well as other tools and techniques he has studied and developed over the past decade.

The comments were quite helpful for me as a consultant promoting new social and sustainable business practices, as well as the engineering colleague at our table, who is working with clients to develop closed loop sustainable business models.

For more on this topic, check out Roger Martin’s website library of books, articles, videos and blogs, including his new book ‘The Design of Business’ – available through Amazon, or Dymocks in Australia.

Other highlights of his talk and his work, are the “knowledge funnel”, which explains a lot of what I do – encouraging technically proficient managers to “codify” their judgment so they can develop their teams’ judgment and decision making skills.

Martin’s knowledge funnel models how mysteries can be developed into heuristics (or rules of thumb) and then into codifiable algorithms.  Each stage increases efficiency and reliability by paying attention to fewer variables and leaving other things out of the “equation”.

Martin’s view is that competitive advantage is a function of who can drive knowledge fastest through the funnel to algorithmic efficiency and then reinvest in creating a solution for the next new mystery.  Trouble is, most organisations get good at refining their existing heuristics and algorithms and don’t make time to explore new mysteries, so they eventually get blind sided by a new heuristic or algorithm from a organisation, not previously even seen as a competitor.

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