Review – Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger L. Martin

Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger L. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A useful explanation of what makes for design thinking.

As a design thinker, having some of Martin’s articulate words in your head will no doubt be of use when you need to explain what it is you do and how you do it to the more reliability-oriented, deductive thinkers you’ll encounter almost every day.

Martin goes to great effort to distinguish the validity-centric design thinker’s abductive, “what if” mindset as a key tool, balanced against the reliability-centric mindset of most of the world, focused on ensuring repeatability and low levels of variation. So too, he makes a powerful point that for many design thinkers, the tools we trade in – understanding and empathy, language, context – are something that in working with clients or in the businesses that employ us, we allow to grate rather than seeing that in itself as a design thinking challenge. Clever!

Not a book of practical, try this, tools for design thinkers, Martin’s book, rather, seeks to explain the nature of thinking and working this way for those curious as to what design thinking IS.

For the design thinker, there will be many “Yes!” moments, but an equal number of “Why is he explaining this?” ones. Remember, this book is not for you, the design thinker, but a tool to help you explain why and how you do what you do. Get your boss to read it.

Curiosity is sexy

Don’t have sex with anybody who isn’t turned on by knowledge or the very many ways to get it. Make this your creed. Put it on a T-shirt. And then don’t take that T-shirt off for anyone who violates your very impressive, lovely standards.

What a glorious notion!


Over the Christmas break, I read Umair Haque‘s new book, Betterness. It’s one of the most clear articulations of the way I believe economics and all organisations should function that I’ve come across. Available only as an ebook, just 64 pages in length and at less than US$3, it’s a bargain available through Amazon and direct from HBR.

Not an anti-business screed, Haque is perfectly happy for us all to make money. But what else is there? Where is the real, tangible, actual good for humanity in the way we do things?

He proposes we take a eudaimonic approach to our businesses, seeking to add to a Common Wealth where our work produces the eponymous betterness in what we do. He articulates how this change can be wrought by arguing powerfully, with concrete examples of how businesses and organisations go “… from business to betterness means going from vision, mission, strategy, and objectives to ambition, intention, constraints, and imperatives.”

He wants our organisations to evolve such that “… the organizational mind make[s] an evolutionary leap: ambition, intention, constraints, and imperatives supplant vision, mission, strategy, and objectives as the cognitive building blocks that judge, weigh, and guide human effort.”

Betterness and Haque’s vision of changed business have made me sit down and articulate how acidlabs will behave in a world where we conduct “betterness” instead. So too, I will evaluate who I do business with based on their (intentional or otherwise) moves to betterness.

The video below shows an interview between Umair Haque and Dylan Ratigan on MSNBC. It’s worth watching.

How are you doing “betterness”?

Kindle didn’t start the fire…

Apologies to readers for misquoting a Billy Joel song title. And the terrible pun.

My friend, Kate Carruthers has an interesting post about sitting next to an elderly gentleman on a recent flight and hearing his views on the change the Amazon Kindle is bringing to the book publishing industry.

As a Kindle owner of just a month, I consider the device transformative in its market segment. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the Kindle is the first device of its kind – we’ve had ebook readers of one form or another for quite some time now. But it’s the first to make a difference in the public mind.

What I do believe is that with now-global availability of both the Kindle 2 and the larger-format Kindle DX, the book publishing industry is facing a watershed moment. It’s a moment of no lesser transformation than that the music industry has faced with the dominant emergence of the iPod and the iTunes Store. Again, Apple didn’t invent the electronic music player nor selling music online, they simply had the smarts to define it. And I think Amazon has likely done the same thing with the Kindle.

As a device, it’s trivial to use. The interface is incredibly easy, and the smarts built into the OS such as the way the Menu button reveals an in-context set of activities based on what you are doing (reading, browsing titles in your library, looking at the Kindle store, etc), make device usability very good. It’s not perfect, but it is close.

On top of the actual usage experience, the ease with which the device allows you to access your library (from multiple devices) as well as wide availability of titles, makes obtaining new and interesting reading a trivial task (as with the iTunes Store for music). It’s also potentially expensive, as the purchase hurdle is now near-zero.

Lastly, the usage experience is pleasurable. The Kindle is easy to read on. It’s as clear as a book and the electronic ink the screen uses is much easier on the eye than an LCD screen.

I don’t think the Kindle is yet in a position to supplant paper books. Not even for a tech early adopter like me. Books, and the tactile please to be realised by holding one and reading it, curled in a lounge chair, isn’t under threat from the Kindle. Nor is every book published on the platform yet.

But it is a tangible threat to book publishing. I believe it will transform the retail end of the publishing industry, though I don’t yet understand how. And, with Amazon opening the platform to developers, there are potentially further as yet unseen benefits.