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Roger Martin

Business Gurus

Roger Martin is the Academic Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management; he served as Dean of the School from 1998 to 2013. Previously, he spent 13 years as a director of Monitor Company, a global strategy consultancy based in Massachusetts. In his earlier years, he worked as a strategist consultant, where he studied and advised powerful leaders and studied what made them successful.

Martin’s work falls into five main categories – Integrative Thinking, Business Design / Design Thinking, Strategy, Corporate Social Responsibility and Country Competitiveness. Let’s take a look at the two main players…

Integrative Thinking

First, consider this quote…

‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should for example be able to see that things are hopeless but be determined to make them otherwise.” – F Scott Fitzgerald

Then consider Martin’s take on it…

“[The] Ability to face constructively the tension of opposing models and indeed of choosing one at the expense of the other to generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new model that contains elements of the individual models but is superior to each.”

This provides an essential summary of integrative thinking. In Martin’s research study that took place over 14 years from 1991, he found this style of thinking is the most common amongst highly successful businesspeople and, indeed, successful people in general. This approach considers that instead of choosing the either/or style of thinking, the individual finds an alternative solution – the ‘and’.

Martin has taken this idea into schools for children aged 12 and up with the ‘I Think’ program. The success of this program for children that face problems in school can be reflected in business – integrative thinking helps us out of feeling trapped in an ‘either/or’ situation and give us the tools to come up with something better. It gives us the ability to help answer life’s questions and the realisation that we can learn not to accept the either/or scenario as another option.

This style of thinking forms an essential part of decision making and can help those in the workplace to come up with creative solutions to solve tough challenges. This concept also teaches people to explore somebody else’s point of view and to realise that it does not have to be all or nothing. It forces the individual to think about things further and look deeper into problem solving.

As Martin explains, life inevitably presents us with ‘clashing models’. Instead of either choosing to face them or to run away, we can choose the solution that A.G. Lafley, CEO of Procter and Gamble, chose when his company was struggling – the third ‘integrative’ option. This option is reached through creative resolution and teaches us the flexible and opposable mindset that Martin believes is essential for success in the present day.

Business Design / Design Thinking

Martin has been a long term advocate of the concept of design thinking, “using a designer’s palette to redraw the world of business.” Martin argues that chief executives need to ‘learn the language of design’ – in a process he calls artistic sensibility – in order to secure a competitive advantage. As Martin argues:

“The vast majority of organizations, whether for-profit or not, big or small, are frustrated by the slow pace and low level of innovation to which they find themselves limited. Unbeknownst to them, analytical thinking, which is the predominant thinking pattern in their organizations, inadvertently suppresses innovation and creativity.”

Martin has authored four books, including:

He is a regular columnist for the Harvard Business Review and Businessweek.

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