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on 3 December 2010
This is a short book with some big, and very good, ideas. The problem is, it could have still been shorter - the concept I felt I'd got from the first chapter, and very little is done with it. This is partly because the idea is self-explanatory, and it's either something you'll instinctively take to (if you're disposed to "design thinking"), or won't.

The thesis, broadly stated, is this: there are three main "phases" any business proposition:

* "mystery" : when an intuition nags at an inventor: the germ of a problem (and more to the point its solution) suggests itself and there is no orthodox means for solving it - here is the maximum opportunity for those who can (think of a young Ray Kroc (later of MacDonald's) thinking "how do I build scale in my hamburger joint?");

* "heuristic": when you've figured out a potential solution that does the job, but you don't necessarily understand the full implications and possibilities and boundaries of the solution; and

* "algorithm": where both the problem/opportunity and the solution are fully understood, and the solution has been - or can be - maximally commoditised and automated: the only question is efficiency.

Roger Martin's presentation is a convincing as far as it goes: I dare say the boundaries between the three phases are porous, and Martin is convincing that there is a reflexive quality to the propositions: the more they are solved, and the more the richness of an offering is stripped to its essential superstructure, the lower the barriers to competition, the slimmer the margins, and the more compelling the need to look for other mysteries.

It won't do, therefore, to settle on your mystery, drive it down the "design funnel" as hard and fast as you can, and relentlessly and mindlessly tweak the algorithm to make it run faster. Your own behaviour, if successful enough, itself will present opportunities for others: witness MacDonald's versus, say, Subway or Starbucks. MacDonald's algorithm stripped away "extraneous" considerations like healthiness, "coolness", freshness and so on. So Subway was able to differentiate itself on food quality, and Starbucks on the delightful hipness of actually visiting the store (it seems extraordinary in hindsight, doesn't it!). MacDonald's was forced by its competitors back up the funnel to consider other offerings.

The idea is intuitive and makes a lot of sense. Particularly in a large organisations there is a tendency towards "backward looking" data, regression analyses and the tried and true: "no one ever got fired for buying IBM" was a truism when I was a youngster. But the passage of time illustrates the corollary of that truism as well: no-one revolutionised their business by buying IBM either. And that, says Roger Martin, is what design thinking makes possible.

It is certainly my experience that large organisations tend to "reliability" rather than "validity" thinking, and are so keen on moving to algorithm stage that they are inclined to skip the "heuristic".

So some gripes: Firstly for a short book with an attractive big idea, it was rather hard to keep focussed on it. Something about Roger's writing style is pretty disengaging. I'm not entirely sure what it is: partly I think he takes a simple idea and fairly harshly beats it to death with self-serving examples: there are extended case studies of Proctor & Gamble, Target, and Research In Motion, all of which he was closely involved with. RIM in particular seems a fairly poor example: yes, they had a big idea and commoditised it (isn't that what all successful businesses do?) but their subsequent performance has been underwhelming, as they've been unable to withstand the march of the smart phones, and while they're still the dominant player in the business market, they seem to be slowly but surely withering on the vine in the consumer space. (This week they've launched a post-emptive strike against the apple iPad: you sense too little too late).

On the other hand, Roger's take on the underlying philosophy of design and business development is polymath enough to take in pragmatists like Dewey and Charles Sanders Pierce. Being a fan of Richard Rorty and the post-modern philosophers this went down well with me and struck me as a solid basis for the common sense contained in the book: in a contingent, ironic and pragmatic universe, where priorities, economic conditions, consumer preferences and political orthodoxies change like the wind, big, fast, dumb, inflexible machinery seems like a poor suit to be long in. The relentless preference for algorithms (mechanical, reliable) over heuristics (logical, but requiring interpretation and judgment) seems so blindingly obvious that it's a wonder so much of corporate enterprise is so blind to it. Being a design thinker is not easy - certainly, translating your unorthodox point of view to an anally retentive business analyst requires powers of persuasion not all of us have ("use lots of analogies!" Roger cheerfully advises) and you wonder whether design thinking - utopian an idea though it might be - is one that will generally get nowhere near the beating heart of your average multi-national.


Olly Buxton
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on 15 August 2011
This book makes for a disappointing read. There is nothing new to be found in here - Martin merely echoes what others have said before him, only less originally so, and presents a very watered down, shallow definition of 'Design Thinking'. The book seems to consist entirely of a few Harvard Business School cases (Apple? What a surprise. RIM? Doesn't seem to do that well these days...) and some quotes of Design gurus, like David Kelley of IDEO. The one interesting story is how P&G implemented Design Thinking, a huge project where Martin was involved personally, but that is just not enough meat to make a whole book out of it.

For anyone interested in an introduction to Design Thinking I would rather recommend Tom Kelley's "The Art of Innovation", even if it is not up to date in terms of products. Why pay for a knockoff if you can have the original.
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on 16 February 2010
I bought this book after reading a blog post by the Author entitled "Why good spreadsheets make bad decisions", I was having a particularly Excel intensive moment and so the post appealed!

I was expecting a one sided view with plenty of suggestions about trusting judgement over data, in the same vein as Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking But that isn't what this book is about.

The book is packed full of examples from P&G, to Herman Miller(the author being directly involved with all) which give great context to the theories discussed. The main focus is moving business processes down the "knowledge funnel", this sounds a little dull but trust me it's the key building a scalable business.

McDonalds not somewhere I would chose to eat, however they have refined every single process from flipping a burger to choosing the next location to open a franchise. This means that they are able to be extremely efficient at scaling, the issue is that when the market dynamic changes they are ill equipped to deal with it.

At the other end of the scale you might have a small sandwich shop, every customer feels special, the staff knows their order and if one day everyone wants a chicken sandwich they can get more in the next day while they cancel the order of bacon, but the sandwich shop can't scale, everything is made to order.

The design thinker is able to strike the right balance between these two, what to systematise and what to leave to best judgement.

If you and your organisation can get this right I have to agree with the title - you will have the competitive advantage.
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on 9 July 2010
'The Design of Business' will give you a good basic overview on why design thinking is the next competitive advantage. It covers the fine balancing act between validity and reliability, or combining intuitive thinking with analytical thinking to get design thinking.

The concept 'design thinking' is not a new concept actually but it is here nicely introduced with all its benefits together with powerful business cases to illustrate the importance: P&G's "Connect + Develop", Herman Miller, Target, IDEO, RIM, Cirque du Soleil, and many others.

For the moment analytical thinking still runs the corporations so there is indeed some window for improvement on the level of business thinking, innovation, decision making and strategy. In this respect the author is convincing towards the reader to stimulate his/her thinking skills towards design thinking.

There is a little bit of focus on recruiting Masters of Fine Arts graduates into the business, although it has been overlooked by the author that there are already many design thinkers out there in business.

'The Design of Business' is a great and easy read with an important message towards all industries and a very important message for innovative approaches.

The Design of Business
1 The Knowledge Funnel - How discovery takes shape
2 The Reliability Bias - Why advancing knowledge is so hard
3 Design Thinking - How thinking like a designer can create sustainable advantage
4 Transforming the corporation - The design of Procter & Gamble
5 The Balancing Act - How design-thinking organizations embrace reliability and validity
6 World-Class Explorers - Leading the design-thinking organization
7 Getting personal - Developing yourself as a design thinker
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on 10 June 2012
Design Thinking in a business context is something really hard to explain to someone who did not experience it. I would expect the Dean of Toronto's Rotman School to achieve it, but that was not the case. Martin's text is difficult to read - the book lacks a solid structure, and it misses the essential - to explain Design Thinking. I had to read a couple of chapters twice, because the ideas are just so confusingly presented that I was left wandering about what the chapter was all about..

The case study on Procter was good reading (I would recommend a web search on Claudia Kotschka videos to get some more depth about it) but it does not save the book.
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on 9 March 2015
A great book on design thinking and how to apply it in your every day working life
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on 25 May 2015
Brilliant read, brilliant book, full of inspiring insights.
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