Tag Archives: Roger Martin

Reading Chuck Norris

Yesterday, in our discussion, Chuck Norris surfaced a couple of times. 

Specifically, the question was, “did everyone see the irony intended in the Old Spice ad.”  Or was this, for some people, a return to the old stereotypes of masculinity?

There are 4 possibilities here (see the chart below).

  • The first, far left, is the fan who sees no irony in Chuck Norris. Norris is masterful, heroic and exemplary.  
  • The last, far right, is the fan who is hip to the joke.  He/she scorns Norris, and loves these ads because they scorn Norris too.
  • In between are people who are more or less admiring of Norris but who are also more or less hip to the joke.

It’s astounding that these ads should have this kind of range. It’s as if our culture accumulates meanings and does not shed them.  So irony comes in but admiration remains available.  

Still more remarkably, people in the middle categories are holding opposing ideas at the same time.  (Very Roger Martin.)  And that is never supposed to happen in popular culture.  

A “Special Teams” Unit for the corporation

The corporation is very good at problem solving.

Next to getting things done, this is what it does best.  

The trouble is the problems are getting tougher.

This is exactly what we would expect.  After all, the world is speeding up.  Most corporations expect to reinvent themselves continually, and they do.  This is what it is to live in the world that Tom (Peters) built.

In the event that someone missed the news, the business presses put us on notice with titles like "Faster," "Blur," "Out of Control," "Blown to Bits" "Fast Forward," "Creative Destruction." We are learning to live with dynamism.

Please have a look at my little model above.

I believe we’ve spent most of the last 20 years learning to live with life at (C).  This is where problems are difficult but not intractable.  They test our systems and our assumptions, but with a concerted effort we can put things right.  Often the corporation will call in the consultants, send everyone off to a brainstorm or two, and search it’s soul until old models and assumptions are unrooted, and a new approach is put in place.  

Whew!  We’re good for 6 months.

Now is the time to prepare ourselves for living at (D).  This is where the world inflicts upon us a blind side hit so grievous that we feel exactly like the quarterback who was just visited by a defensive end weighing 260 pounds and travelling at ten yards a second (over 40 yards). The coach asks "How many fingers?" The QB replies, "let me get back to you on that one."  

We are now much better at opposable problem solving and creative thinking.  We are better at collaboration, brainstorms and skunk works.  We are better at "thinking outside the box," and a host of other cliches.  

But we have gone a long way to go.  The thing about (D) is that we have to think our way out of confusion.  And the only way to do that is to embrace assumptions we know are wrong.  And to put these assumptions into constellations we know are wrong. 

We are terraforming.  We are creating a great mass of bad ideas as a platform on which to create some good ideas.  ??? (D) is now beginning to look more like (C).  Eventually, this will give way to (B). And eventually, for a brief while, we will be at (A).  

Now it used to be enough to build our new systems when we got to D.  But it’s clear, I think, that we need a faster response time.  We need a team of people who spend their professional lives creating new models, lots of new models, so that if and when the corporation finds itself at (D), it’s got alternative ideas at the ready.  By this reckoning the corporation will now constantly entertain many visions of itself, so to protect against against intellectual stasis that comes from (D).

This Special Teams unit doesn’t have to have the perfect answer.  (Guess who spent too much time watching football yesterday?  How bout them Browns?)  But it has several possible models, each of which is far enough along that the corporation can be returned to (C) and retrieved from the wilderness and the horror of (D).  The trouble with (D) is that there is no platform. There’s just chaos.  And failure.

Installation of new models, that’s another model.  Someone from the Special Teams unit will suddenly appear at our desk.  The conversation will go something like this,

"Oh oh. Special Teams. You people are never fun."

"We just want to put a new model in places.  Not to worry.  Won’t take long.  You know, the way we’ve been thinking about product innovation?  Ok.  Here’s the new model.  And you know the way we distinguished between the collaboration and competition?  Big change there.  Here’s the way it works now."

Remember when we used to terrify one another with stories of how the Japanese could re-engineer a product line with almost no downtime.  That’s what we are looking at here.  A kind of corporation reprogramming that can be made to happen almost in real time.  

Technical change will continue to speed up.  Cultural changes will continue to speed up. The corporation is going to have to make ready.  It’s going to take on new order of intellectual difficulty.  It’s going to need a new order of intellectual power.  And, yes, it’s going to need a Special Teams unit. 


Brown, Tim. 2009. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. HarperBusiness.  

Champy, James, and Nitin Nohria. 1996. Fast Forward: The Best Ideas on Managing Business Change. Harvard Business Press.  

Cowen, Tyler. 2004. Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World’s Cultures. Princeton University Press.  

Davis, Stan, and Christopher Meyer. 1999. Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy. 1st ed. Grand Central Publishing.  

Evans, Philip, and Thomas S. Wurster. 1999. Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy. 1st ed. Harvard Business Press.  

Foster, Richard, and Sarah Kaplan. 2004. Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market–And How to Successfully Transform Them. Reprint. Crown Business.  

Gleick, James. 2000. Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. 1st ed. Vintage.  

Grove, Andrew S. 1999. Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company. First. Crown Business.  

Handy, Charles. 1995. The Age of Paradox. Harvard Business Press.  

Handy, Charles. 1991. The Age of Unreason. 1st ed. Harvard Business Press.  

Kelly, Kevin. 1995. Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Economic World. Basic Books.  

Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Penguin Press.  

Martin, Roger L. 2009. Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking. Harvard Business School Press.  

McCracken, Grant.  2006.  Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Cultural Change in a Dynamic Marketplace.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Peters, Tom. 2006. Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age. DK.

Peters, Tom. 1988. Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution. Harper Paperbacks.  

Creativity’s brief moment in the sun?

At year’s end, I have an unhappy thought, that some of the creative professionals who rose of prominence in the first decade of the 21st century will be eclipsed by the end of the decade.  My unhappy thought: the first decade of the 21st century will be for some creative professionals, a brief moment in the sun.

This suspicion turns on three propositions.

1) There has been a change in supply.

As Henry Jenkins pointed out in Textual Poachers and as I labored to point out in Plenitude, the distinction between cultural producers and consumers began to blur in the last 20 years.  Indeed, there was a vast migration from one side of the distinction to the other.  Many people who once merely consumed culture (in the form of film, art, comedy, observation, journalism, criticism) were now surprisingly good at producing this culture.  Suddenly in the economy of culture, the number of suppliers exploded.

2)  There has been a change in demand.

The first decade of the 21st century  was the moment in which the corporation reached out and embraced creativity. We have many institutions and people to thank for this, including BusinessWeek (when it announced the innovation economy), Richard Florida and his study of the creative class, the Kelley brothers (David at Stanford design school, and Tom at Ideo), Roger Martin at the Rotman School, to name a few .

3) There has been a change in the market in which supply and demand find one another

Recently, I was chatted with Richard Shear. He’s owns a design firm.  Over the years he’s done very well, thank you very much. But he can see a cloud on the horizon.  He is seeing some corporations "crowdsourcing" their creativity.  They hold competitions in which all the design talent "out there" is encouraged to apply.  The best work is selected…and paid much less than my friend would have charged.  In sum, demand may be increasing, but supply is increasing more. So prices are falling.

A case in point: that image that appears in the upper right hand corner of this post?  I just bought it from istockphoto.  It cost me a dollar.

4) Creative professionals may lose their moment in the sun.

The economics of creativity may be changing, and this trend appears to be on a collision with the trend that made designers the charmed creatures of the corporation.  It’s possible that the great golden age of commercial creativity may end almost before it began.  By the end of the decade of the next century, we may be looking at a very different design world.

5) Recommendation

In the new "crowdsourced" economy, there will be one place where designers will continue to flourish.  It will be with clients who do not know what they need.  When they do know what they need, they will take advantage of the new economy.  But when they don’t, they will need a enduring connection with a designers who gets who they are, who the consumer is, and what the culture is.  They will need designers who deliver a larger package of knowledge, intelligence, and creativity.  (To be sure, this is the way great designers always seen what they do.)  The upshot?Designers should be cultivating the skills that enable them to deliver ideas and intelligence, not just design.  (To be fair, this is what all design schools say they do.)  This will take a new order of professional development.  (It will mean that designers will have to be Chief Culture Officers, whomever else they are.)

There’s good news: that as the world grows more dynamic, more and more clients are going to need more foundational work from their designers.  They won’t know what they need. They will come to the designer with a wish for a bigger picture, pattern recognition, a true knowledge and mastery of culture, a feeling for the competitive field and a deeper skill set that is perhaps now usual.


Florida, Richard. 2003. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. Basic Books.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge.

McCracken, Grant.  1997.  Plenitude.  Toronto: Periph Fluide.

McCracken, Grant.  2009.  Chief Culture Officer.  Basic Books.

Mandel, Michael.  2004.  "This Way to the Future." BusinessWeek, October 11.

Kelley, Thomas, and Jonathan Littman. 2005. The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. New York: Broadway Business.

Moldoveanu, Mihnea C., and Roger L. Martin. 2008. The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future. New York: Oxford University Press.

Winsor, John.  2009.  The power of And.  John Winsor’s Blog.  December 30. here.


I have the uneasy feeling that my recommendation comes from someone somewhere.  I have been reading widely over the holidays, and there has been a lot of water under the board (internet surfing, that is).  If someone knows the source of this argument, please let me know.

Note: this post was lost late last year due to Network Solutions’ incompetence.  I am reposting it today December 31, 2010.