Design in hostile territory: Roger Martin

Roger Martin
Dean, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

A Canadian from Wallenstein, Ontario, Roger Martin was formerly a Director of Monitor Company, a global strategy consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During his 13 years with Monitor Company, he founded and Chaired Monitor University, the firm’s educational arm, served as co-head of the firm for two years, and founded the Canadian office. His research interests lie in the areas of global competitiveness, integrative thinking, business design and corporate citizenship.

I met Roger as we arrived for the conference. We had each come to the main entrance of the Museum, looking up a long flight of stairs, seeing no evidence of activity other than a couple of people repairing the entrance doors. Up the stairs we went only to be told at the top that the Museum was not yet open. We referred to the conference, and were told to go to the Chicago Road entrance. We made our way down Chicago, then turned through the park, then back up the other side of the block, making our way about 345 degrees around the building to find a small corner entrance for the conference. Along the way we had an opportunity to talk about Toronto (where he is), Montreal (where he was coming from), and Detroit (where, it seems, nobody wants to be).

Roger made something of a keynote address. His presentation, “Designing in Hostile Territory, ” was referred to frequently during the rest of the conference.

The “hostile territory” Roger spoke of is the space in between the culture of the clients of designers, “business people,” and that of designers. Roger depicted a line with a range of values between “reliability” on one end and “validity” on the other.

He then developed characteristics of the cultures in the ends of this spectrum.

This was a key image. Roger placed a speculative distribution of people on the a scale from 100% reliability to 100% validity.

Roger spoke of the behaviors that might reduce the hostility in the environment. He outlines 5 key responses to the business mindset:

  1. Treat design unfriendliness as a design problem, itself
  2. Empathize with the design unfriendly elements
  3. Speak the language of reliability
  4. Use analogies and stories
  5. Bite off as little a piece as possible to generate proof of the idea

He offered an unusual observation: Any company that says “prove it” will not innovate.

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