Roger Martin on leveraging design in business

At Design Indaba Conference 2007, Roger Martin discusses the difference between a design view of business and a business view of design.

Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and an author of several business books, Roger Martin specialises in the areas of global competitiveness, integrative thinking and business design.

At Design Indaba Conference 2007, Martin gave a lecture on how design could be implemented into business and vice versa. He believes that at the heart of this integration lies the fundamental tension between reliability and validity.

The first part of Martin’s presentation defines the differences between reliability and validity, setting a foreground for the implementation of both into the world of design and business.

Reliability, according to Martin, gives the same answer each time and is based on past events. Validity, on the other hand, answers a question that's dependant on objectives and bias.

Reliability and validity trade off against each other. If something is more reliable then it sacrifices validity, and when something is more valid it sacrifices reliability. This is the fundamental tension between design and business, says Martin.

Martin believes that business people and designers have a different orientation towards reliability and validity. “Business people want more reliability for producing a consistent outcome and to feel safe, whereas designers want more validity in order to have the freedom to produce something innovative and wonderful”, says Martin. This different view then becomes the way people see the world and what they intend to pursue.

The second part of Martin’s presentation focuses on five steps designers can take to better manage what they wish to accomplish. In parallel, Martin also highlights five steps business people can take to work alongside designers in a more efficient and productive way.

What designers can do to design in hostile territories:

  1. Take “design-unfriendliness” as a design challenge
  2. Empathise with “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

What business people can do to work better with designers:

  1. Take inattention to reliability as a management challenge
  2. Empathise with the “reliability-unfriendly” elements
  3. Speak the language of validity
  4. Share data and reasoning, not conclusions
  5. Bite off as big a piece as possible to give innovation a chance

These steps are fundamentally important for both designers and business people. Martin believes that if a business never incorporates validity and a possible change in the future, the business will eventually come to a halt as there is no innovation present. At the same time, if there is no reliability for designers they will not be able to design the most efficient model for the business, as they will not understand its structure and core elements.

The best business people and the best designers are the ones who understand the other side, says Martin.