Roger Martin: Forward Thinking [The Knowledge Project Ep. #97]

The former Dean and Institute Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, Roger Martin was 2017’s number one management thinker in the world. You’ll walk away from this conversation a better leader and decision maker as he discusses patterns of good leadership, the hardest skill to transfer when decision making, self-sabotage, overcoming fear and integrative thinking.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

I think the education system has got a fundamental assumption that the job is to unzip the top of your head and pour knowledge in rather than to teach you how to think.

Business schools do not teach the fundamental problems of business. That’s pretty bad, right? What they teach are finance, what they teach is marketing, they teach us HR. As the greatest management thinker of all time, Peter Drucker said, “There are no marketing problems, there are no finance problems, there are no accounting problems, there are only business problems.” These are problems that sloppily span across a bunch of domains and business education has abdicated, doesn’t even try to teach how you think across domains.

It feels as though all of this siloization of education has made people think that I can apply some narrow perspective on this and it’s the only perspective that is worthy. If somebody applies a different perspective to it and comes to a different point of view, it’s because they’re either stupid or evil. That’s the explanation. Rather than saying, now that’s interesting, what do they see that I don’t see? Is there a way I could integrate some of what they see into what I see to come up with a better idea? We don’t seem to be taught the curiosity about that.

If the choice is between lying on the beach or getting kicked in the groin, you don’t need to use integrative thinking, I’ll take lying on a beach. It’s when you feel like, ugh, I hate the fact that I apparently have to choose here. You don’t love either option, either choice. That’s the time, that’s when a little light should go off in your head and say, ah, ah, ah, stop, don’t choose, because you don’t like either.

I think that America had a huge advantage over the rest of the world for probably 30, 40, 50 years, somewhere between 1930 and 1980, where it had the best capital markets in the world for helping companies grow and prosper. I think in 2020, now, America has got a capital market that is a detriment to American competitiveness.

Most of the reasons for wanting to be on a board are bad for the effectiveness of the board. One reason for being on the board is it’s a good pay. Well, if you think it’s good pay, then you will not do anything to sacrifice good pay. Being on a board is prestigious. Well, you’re not going to do anything that’ll sacrifice the prestige. It’s a good camaraderie with other interesting people. Well, you’re not going to do anything that sacrifices camaraderie.

It is one of the cool things about the economy, is all these diluted people who think they’re going to be the one keep trying. Sure enough, that spits out enough successes to change and transform the economy. I think the big companies sit there with their hands tied behind their back and say, we don’t allow delusional people here.

I’ve taught myself a process of thinking that slows me down enough for me to absorb greater variety and greater logical pieces. I think of little logical subroutines, a big decision is stacking together a bunch of logical little subroutines, and I have a process for giving myself time to play around with those.

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