Posts Tagged ‘roger martin ’

Wicked Problems, A Defining Challenge

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Reverberating events

The uprisings in the Arab world are capturing worldwide attention not only because we’re witnessing history in the making, but because the changes are bound to affect us all. We live in a world that’s interconnected in ways that were hard to fathom only a few years ago. Interconnectedness is creating new challenges with social implications that traditional institutions and leaders aren’t equipped to handle.

The clashes across the Middle East and North Africa are only the latest example of unforeseen events that reverberate across regional boundaries. Before that, the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the U.S. sparked a deep global recession that affected more sectors than anything economists had seen before. As some economies began recovering during the following year, Europe’s mounting debt crisis triggered  a cascade of new problems in distant economies.

Today’s challenges, geopolitical or otherwise, are more difficult to predict, understand and handle than the kinds of problems we’ve seen until recently. As the world grows more interconnected, we become more exposed to what design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber called “wicked problems” which are substantially harder to define and solve than so-called “tame” problems.


An Intregrative Crisis Response

Monday, October 27th, 2008

rogermartinsbook_osprey-imageI’ve written before about Integrative Thinking (or “Design Thinking“), a creative problem-solving approach described by Roger Martin, Dean at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business and others.

Martin defines integrative thinking as the ability to deal with the tensions of competing solutions to a problem. Instead of choosing one solution at the expense of the other, the practioner generates a solution integrates both solutions.

In his ’07 book, The Opposable Mind, Martin argues that integrative thinking is superior to conventional thinking which consists of “accpeting unattractive and unpleasant tradeoffs”.

This concept is relevant to how government and business leaders ought to approach the financial crisis.  Instead of deciding between implementing tax cuts or a stimulus package – seemingly contradictory models – why not try both?  Instead of businesses merely cutting operating costs, why not implement initatives that preserve high margin business increase customer retention and profit per customer.

Martin considers these issues in an October 8  interview. He applies integrative thinking to the vexing challenges associated with the economic crisis affecting today’s leaders.

Design-minded Virgin America

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Before launching their operation, Virgin America set out to create a distinctive customer experience to differentiate their brand.  They succeeded by creating a breakthrough on-board service product about which I commented in an earlier post.

VA’s success stems from their attitude that the customer is at the center of their universe.  They relied on service design – the art and science of devising an environment that enables the customer to enjoy a rich, satisfying experience.  Unfortunately, it’s an approach that has been largely ignored by the industry.

Design-minded managers relentlessly ask: Who is the person we’re serving, and how can we make their service experience better?  That thinking encourages listening intently to what the customer says along with what isn’t said, but is felt.

Design-mindedness is uncommon in a traditional, operations-centric industry where running an efficient operation is prized above all other endeavors.  That mindset inhibits innovativeness, and too often, the customer is left out of the equation.

As a result, commercial air travel, with some notable exceptions, is perceived as a commodity, i.e. competitors’ services are virtually indistinguishable from each other, and customers tend to buy on price or schedule-convenience alone.

Historically, the major airlines have viewed their central challenge as getting passengers from point A to B as safely and efficiently as possible.  Their organizing principles arise from a linear manufacturing model which hasn’t changed much over time.

The University of Toronto’s Roger Martin observes, “The dominant attitude in traditional firms is to see constraints as the enemy and budgets as the driver of decisions… The traditionalist belief is, “We can only do what we have the budget to do.”

By contrast, design thinkers view their central challenge as solving “unsolvable” problems. Design-thinkers venerate the customer, and relentlessly seek novel novel ways of overcoming constraints.

VA’s corporate culture – clearly influenced by Richard Branson’s intense creativity and drive – is customer-driven, encouraging design-inspired choices.  Branson’s mission for the Virgin group is to make flying fun again.

Recognizing that they’d have to look outside the industry – to Silicon Valley – VA hired software engineers rather than airline vendors. The mix of engineers and process owners led to some interesting choices.

For one thing, they came up with the novel idea of using an open-source (Linux) platform, named Red, to power a range of nifty features, like touch-screen food and beverage ordering, on-demand media on a high-resultion monitor, and even in-seat chat. Internet connectivity will be available soon. Moreover, Red affords VA the flexibility to support future low, cost innovation.

There are bugs to be worked out. Customers have reported re-boots and other glitches. But, I think VA is well ahead of the innovation curve, and their service platform gives them a clear competitive edge.

How will the industry respond?  Carriers are taking a beating from record fuel prices and reduced demand, and in this cycle, the carriers will be treading water for some time. Under the circumstances, will the U.S. airlines open the door to design-minded, customer-centric thinking? What’s next is anybody’s guess.

Cudos for “The Opposable Mind”

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I can’t remember the last time I read a business book where I was hungry for more.  That was the case with Roger Martin’s ’07 book, The Opposable Mind. This is one that I’ll propose for our upcoming Executive Book series — it’s a “must read” for all business consultants, executives or managers who want to get to the true heart of problem-solving.

Martin, who is the Dean at the University of Toronto’s innovative Rotman Business School, debunks conventional, linear thinking conducted by many business practitioners.  Instead, he advocates an unconventional, seemingly paradoxical approach to solving problems known as integrative thinking.  He maintains that successful leaders excel at integrative thinking.

According to Martin, integrative thinkers view problems “holistically”while embracing the tension between competing ideas. Integrative thinkers actually “hold two conflict ideas in constructive, almost dialectic tension.” He argues that many people find such tension uncomfortable, but not integrative thinkers.  In fact, their capacity to work in this space leads to creative solutions to complex problems.

Martin cites numerous examples of integrative thinkers and their successes including Meg Whitman of eBay, Victoria Hale of the Institute for One World Health, and Nanden Nilekani of Infosys.

Martin admits that shifting to integrative thinking isn’t easy.  But, he’s convinced that practioners can vastly improve their capacity for integrative thinking and, by doing so, can increase their effectiveness as problem-solvers.

His prescriptions include:

• Look at problems holistically, with consideration to how various parts fit together, rather than analyzing the parts in isolation.
• Consider multiple causes, as well as possible nonlinear relationships between cause and effect, rather than thinking of terms of simple linear relationships between a single cause and effect.
• Embrace the tension between opposing ideas and use that conflict to generate creative new alternatives rather than making simple either-or decisions.

Martin walks us through his argument with great clarity and elegance.  This was an informative and highly pleasurable read…