Last updated: 7 april, 2009 - 10:31 GMT

Thinking about Thinking

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About this programme by Peter Day

For a long time I was frightened of thinking. It was (I assumed) an analytic practice. I had a brain that was wretched at analysis. But quite good at synthesis and association.

Actually, that wasn't all bad. As you get older analysis tends to lose its vigour; it's a young persons' game. But synthesis goes on, and gets better results, perhaps as you get more experience to synthesise as you get older.

I would like to have been taught that a long time ago. But they didn't seem to teach thinking in those days. However it is now becoming a discipline in its own right, and this week's programme hears from two people keenly interested in thinking about business.

One of them is the dean of a business school, and that is immediately interesting because I don't know that business schools have been interested in thinking until rather recently. Management education gives its expensive students the tools to do the job: analytic techniques, strategic skill sets, case studies about historic problems to be solved afresh, and of course a prodigious network of fellow students who will go out and conquer their own worlds.

Fuzzy

But to all that stuff, Roger Martin is trying to add the art of thinking to the curriculum at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada.

He calls it Integrative Thinking with a trademark sign attached. Instead of choosing between one or the other opposing solution, Roger Martin urges business leaders to build a superior new model, building on the original proposals but superior to them. It may sound fuzzy the way I tell it, but it's systematically worked out to take the tension out of the opposing models which is the way conventional thinkers look at the business world.

When he visited the school seven years ago the late Professor Peter Drucker said : ""What the Rotman School is doing may be the most important thing happening in management education today." And Peter Drucker was the most thoughtful management guru, ever.

Weighty

Another thing they do well at Rotman is produce a thrice a year magazine which tackles real ideas with a verve and style that I have not encountered anywhere else, benefiting from the influence of distinctive Canadian designers.
Roger Martin regards design as a central part of thinking about business..not just as decoration or an add on, but as a way of running business as a whole.

The other interviewee in this programme is the designer Tim Brown, the British born Royal College of Art graduate who is now president and chief executive of the international design group Ideo, based in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley (that place again!).

In a similar way to Roger Martin at Rotman, he is a proponent of the idea that design has a great deal to teach managers. Last year he wrote a striking article about this in the weighty Harvard Business Review called Design Thinking.

Simple

For many years Ideo has gone far deeper into business than merely designing products. A walk round any of the Idea studios is exhilarating.
Ideo's designers often start a project by creating a pretty detailed profile of the customer who may use the final product : a fully fleshed out biography that will enable them to envision how real people will respond to thing they are creating.

But design thinking goes deeper than that. Tim Brown (and Roger Martin) argue that thinking like designers ought to animate many aspects of management, hitherto obsessed with process and marketing and strategy to the often exclusion of the people who will buy the product or service the company is trying to maker.

If business people listen to them, it might create nothing less than a revolution. Managers love to repeat the mantra "Keep it simple stupid." But life isn't simple, and designers may be more aware of that than companies are.
That's just a thought ... but quite a big one. The kind they really ought to be teaching at business school.

CONTRIBUTORS:

Tim Brown
CEO, Ideo

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

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