What's Thwarting American Innovation? Too Much Science, Says Roger Martin

By pushing the principles of scientific management too far, corporations are short-circuiting their own futures, says the designiest dean of all the business schools. "The enemy of innovation is the phrase 'prove it,'" Roger Martin says.

<a href=Roger Martin" width="190" height="183" />The folks at McKinsey, Bain, and BCG should be happy that Roger Martin likes his job. Otherwise, he could cause them a heap of trouble.

As it is, the dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto is traveling the country, throwing down the gauntlet to companies who hope to analyze and strategize their way out of a recession by bringing in armies of management consultants. You'll get what you pay for, he warns, and it won't be innovation.

"The business world is tired of having armies of analysts descend on their companies," he says. "You can't send a 28-year-old with a calculator to solve your problems."

the design of businessThe problem, says Martin, author of a new book, The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, is that corporations have pushed analytical thinking so far that it's unproductive. "No idea in the world has been proved in advance with inductive or deductive reasoning," he says.

The answer? Bring in the folks whose job it is to imagine the future, and who are experts in intuitive thinking. That's where design thinking comes in, he says.

"If I didn't like my job, I'd go out and create a killer firm that would take on McKinsey head-to-head in their own market. A company would get better results, at a fraction of the price." McKinsey, a $5B company, bills out freshly minted MBAs at $1M a year, Martin says. Their billing structure is 10 times what a design firm typically gets.

We spoke to Martin about why MBAs and designers should learn to get along prior to his coming to New York for the Rotman School of Management Design Thinking Experts series with IDEO's Tim Brown and Target's Will Setliffe.

Fast Company: As we slowly climb out of the recession, everybody's looking for where the next innovation will come from. Why does our pace of innovation seem to be slowing?

Martin: Most companies try to be innovative, but the enemy of innovation is the mandate to "prove it." You cannot prove a new idea in advance by inductive or deductive reasoning.

Fast Company: Are you saying that the regression analysis jockeys and Six Sigma black belts have got it all wrong?

Martin: Well, yes. With every good thing in life, there's often a dark shadow. The march of science is good, and corporations are being run more scientifically. But what they analyze is the past. And if the future is not exactly like the past, or there are things happening that are hard to measure scientifically, they get ignored. Corporations are pushing analytical thinking so far that it's become unproductive. The future has no legitimacy for analytical thinkers.

Fast Company: What's the alternative?

Martin: New ideas must come from a new kind of thinking. The American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce called it abductive logic. It's a logical leap of the mind that you can't prove from past data.

Fast Company: I can't see many CEOs being comfortable with that!

Martin: Why not? The scientific method starts with a hypothesis. It's often what happens in the shower or when an apple hits you on the head. It's what we call 'intuitive thinking.' Its purpose is to know without explicit reasoning.

Fast Company: So, if you're not getting these Newtonian moments from your management consultants, where are they likely to come from?

Martin: In a knowledge-intensive world, design thinking is critical to overcoming the biggest block: overcoming analytical thinking and fear of intuitive thinking. The design thinker enables the organization to balance exploration and exploitation, invention of business and administration of business, originality and mastery.

Fast Company: Who's been brave enough to embrace that idea in this market?

Martin: When he first took over, A.G. Lafley at P&G was brilliant enough to realize they were missing a lot about the holistic consumer experience by sticking to things that were rigorously quantified. For example, when the company moved into beauty products, they were looking at face cream. And the scientists decided it must be about pore coverage. So they analyzed the hell out of pores and said 'We can cover pores better than anybody.' So when women in their research started talking about wanting to feel beautiful and desirable, they'd say, 'Don't talk about that. We don't know how to quantify that!' And they couldn't understand why stupid women would go off to department stores and pay ten times more when they could cover pores just as well. Ten years ago, P&G couldn't prove they could sell women billions of dollars of Oil of Olay face cream at $30-$60. They could imagine it, but not prove it. Lafley took it as a management challenge to see across the divide.

Fast Company: If you don't have A.G. Lafley or Steve Jobs at the helm, how can you sell your organization on the idea of an intuitive leap instead of a scientific leap?

Martin: You don't have to convert the whole organization to design thinking. Propose a little experiment—say, three months in length—where you test out a bite-sized chunk of a problem using this method. If you have a little success, be sure to then attach metrics to it. In that way, you turn the future into the past in a way they understand.

Fast Company: We're a little biased toward the designers here. Don't they bear some of the responsibility for the gap in understanding?

Martin: Absolutely. Like anybody who takes a job in another country, and needs to learn the local language in order to function, design thinkers need to learn the language of reliability, terms such as proof, regression analysis, and best practices.

Fast Company: Sounds like there's a promising future for somebody who's bilingual and can combine both approaches.

Martin: This is a fascinating time, and there's an interesting battle coming. One of these smallish design firms might combine the best of the analytical from the business world and the best intuitive thinking from the design world and become gigantic. There would be massive traction for it. It wouldn't be the first time that a little company in a garage saw things differently.

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