Huntsman Post

Author says tapping the strengths of analytical and creative thinkers is critical

Roger Martin - Photo by Steve Eaton

By Connor Child

Businesses innovate when their leaders think like designers, according to an expert in the field of integrative thinking and business design.

“Design thinking is the next competitive advantage,” said Roger Martin, author of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, in a keynote address at the Partners In Business Operational Excellence Seminar. His speech doubled as a Dean’s Convocation during Business Week at Utah State University.

Dr. Martin, who is dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, said when confronted with mysteries or problems, traditional companies tend to resort solely to analytical thinking. They narrow the range of ideas to consider just things that are quantifiable and require no judgment to measure. The data is then analyzed to produce reliable outcomes. Analytical thinkers are primarily interested in what can be proven, he said.

While analytical thinking is an important part of any business, Dr. Martin said it won’t produce innovation unless it is combined with something else.

“Analytical thinking is only capable of honing and refining knowledge in its existing stage,” said Dr. Martin. Intuitive thinking must be part of the process

Dr. Martin said intuitive thinking places great emphasis on imagination – the designer’s foremost competitive weapon. It involves accepting variables that can’t be analyzed numerically without using judgment and bias, he said. It welcomes experimenting with ideas that are untested.

“Prove it,” in fact, is a phrase that Dr. Martin said all innovators should eliminate from their vocabulary.

“Big companies squelch intuitive thinking without really knowing they’re doing it,” he said. “They say little things like ‘prove it’ and squelch innovation completely. They leave themselves prey to the little company that’s going to come along and stare into the mystery that they’re ignoring.”

Design thinking combines the best of analytical and intuitive thinking. A business that can find the appropriate balance between the two will continually experience innovation and will have a constant advantage over its competitors, he said.

In 2010, Dr. Martin was named one of the 27 most influential designers in the world by Business Week. The Times (of London) and Forbes.com listed him as one of the top 50 management thinkers in the world.

 Roger Martin talks with business leaders and students. – Photo by Steve Eaton