• Strategy

Brave New Business Thinking

Former Rotman Dean, Roger Martin, offers a better way to think about fourteen essential aspects of management


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Energy price hikes, soaring inflation and the war in Ukraine have made the post-pandemic ‘build back better’ task harder than ever—but hugely necessary.

‘Better’ suggests a greater focus on social justice and environmental responsibility, but with the rising cost of living disproportionately effecting poorer people and developing countries, and the energy crisis likely to de-rail the ‘net-zero’ climate change agenda, maintaining the status quo will be difficult—better extremely hard.

A New Way to Think

Written during the Covid crisis, but before the war in Europe, Roger L. Martin’s latest book, A New Way to Think: A Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness, offers valuable direction for organizations facing the daunting task ahead. Martin’s central message is that business leaders get too hung up on their business models—typically repeating the same model with greater energy even if it initially fails.

In order to set new trajectories for sustainable growth, leaders need to ‘own’ their models and not be dictated to by them. If the model—"a given framework, general practice, theory, or way of thinking”—isn’t working it should be ditched and replaced.

Roger L. Martin

Across fourteen concise chapters, Martin, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, examines fourteen dominant but flawed business models from every area of management and in each case offers a new way of thinking to find a better model. The message is that leaders should stop blaming themselves when their model fails them—it’s likely to be the fault of the model not their fault in poorly implementing it. Try a different model.

These are the areas he focuses on: competition; stakeholders; customers; strategy; data; culture; knowledge work; corporate functions; planning; execution; talent; innovation; capital investment; and M&A.

Of ‘competition’ he says that it happens on the customer-facing front line rather than at corporate HQ—the traditional hierarchy is flipped and the role at each level should be to help the level below to serve the customer better.

When, in a recent report, EY posited that “big data can eliminate reliance on ‘gut feel’ decision making,” they exposed another dominant model that Martin says is faulty. Here he argues that in a context where things cannot be other than they are data-analytics is valuable in improving performance. But where things need to be other than they are reliance on data can inadvertently convince us that change is not possible.   

With execution Martin contests the dominant idea that “a mediocre idea well executed is superior to a great idea poorly executed.” He argues that this model can indefinitely consign the organization to mediocrity. Unfortunately, in this case he concedes that his new model may find few takers, as the flawed but dominant model does enshrine an important principle to ensure action orientation. His hope is however that readers will open their minds to each of his fourteen models—even giving the execution one a chance.

Considered one of the foremost management thinkers of his generation, Professor Martin has previously written about some of the major structural problems in democratic capitalism—the disconnect between Main Street and Wall Street, the dynamics of social enterprise, etc. This book is something of a return to basics, to providing sound applicable advice to management practitioners, and as such, drawing on his unique depth of experience and ever creative mind, it is an important contribution.


‘A New Way to Think: A Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness,’ Roger L. Martin. Published by Harvard Business Review Press, 2022, ISBN 978-1-647-82351-1

Rotman School of Management is Canada’s leading business school and has Canada’s largest group of management faculty. It is home to some of the most innovative research institutes in the world

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