Book Review: The Design Of Business

The Design Of Business:  Why Design Thinking Is The Next Competitive Advantage, by Roger Martin

It must be admitted that a book like this has a bit of an uphill climb.  The author seeks to promote a sort of thinking that runs counter to the quantitative spirit of the times and points out the sort of systemic biases in favor of reliability over validity that make it hard for people in many contemporary businesses to justify the high-risk, high-reward efforts at creative thinking that make it possible to provide genuine and long-lasting competitive advantages in a world where most businesses are content to seek to exploit existing insights and run businesses into the ground.  The author captures an understanding of the uncertainty that makes it both hard to turn some fields (like songwriting) into algorithms, although many try, and also points out that looking for new messy fields to draw insights from can be a very profitable and useful way for companies to prosper, and also points out that many companies can be a victim of their own success by ditching the habits that led them to be creative in the past but where complacency and a rentier mentality has made creativity a harder sell given its inherent messiness in the present.

This book is a short one of less than 200 pages and is a pretty quick read.  After some acknowledgements the author begins with a discussion of the knowledge funnel and how it is that discovery takes shape as messy reality is first sorted into heuristics and then turned into handy and effective algorithms (1).  This leads to a discussion of the reliability bias that privileges ways that are already known to work and makes it hard for knowledge to progress because of the temperamental conservatism of people and institutions (2).  After that the author introduces the subject of design thinking and how it can provide a competitive advantage for businesses (3), as well as a discussion of how adopting this way of thinking can transform companies that are struggling to survive in the midst of difficult times, as was the case for Proctor & Gamble (4).  A discussion of the balancing act that must take place between reliability and validity follows (5), as does a look at how cutting-edge companies are world-class explorers (6) in a world generally content to exploit.  Finally, the book closes with a discussion on how the reader can develop oneself as a design thinker (7), along with notes, an index, and some information about the author.

At its core, this book is an appeal for the reader to develop and to appreciate abductive thinking, where one first observes messy reality and then seeks the most elegant explanation for these observations.  Admittedly, this is not a style of thinking that is appreciated and encouraged in many business schools and it certainly goes against the grain of the way that people tend to think most of the time.  Yet it does allow one to think as a designer, as it is a way of inferring explanations and designs and intents from the observations we make of what is around us.  By becoming world-class noticers of our world and people who think and reflect upon what we notice, we can become far more creative people whether we are directly aiming at it or not.  I’m not sure how successful the author is in advocating this for the general public, as one would think that most of the people who read this book are likely to already be people who practice this tendency In a sense, this book is likely preaching to the choir, which means that while this book will be interesting and encouraging to those who are already practicing thinking like a designer, it is less likely to make it less uncommon to think in this fashion.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, On Creativity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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