Book Review: A New Way to Think

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A New Way to Think reminded me of an old joke. In the joke, a man goes to his doctor and says, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” The doctor replies, “Then quit doing that.”

That’s the premise behind Roger Martin’s book, A New Way to Think. He says this in the Introduction.

“When executives and managers find that a given framework, general practice, theory, or way of thinking—what I will call a “model” for short—doesn’t lead to the desired outcome, they almost automatically assume that the model in question wasn’t applied rigorously enough.”

Naturally, the response to thinking that way is to use the same model but put more effort into it. Martin’s response is, “don’t do that!” He wants us to step back, review our thinking, and then try something different. Each of the fourteen chapters “compares a dominant but flawed model to an alternative that I argue is superior.” Here’s a list of those chapters.

  • Competition: It happens at the front line, not at the head office.
  • Stakeholders: To actually create shareholder value, put customers before shareholders.
  • Customers: The familiar solution usually trumps the perfect one.
  • Strategy: In strategy, what counts is what would have to be true—not what is true.
  • Data: Creating great choices requires imagination more than data.
  • Culture: You can only change it by altering how individuals work with one another.
  • Knowledge Work: You must organize around projects, not jobs.
  • Corporate Functions: Give them their own strategies.
  • Planning: Recognize that it’s no substitute for strategy.
  • Execution: Accept that it’s the same thing as strategy.
  • Talent: Feeling special is more important than compensation.
  • Innovation: The design of the intervention is as critical as the innovation itself.
  • Capital Investment: Assume that its value is reset as soon as it is embedded.
  • M&A: You need to give value to get value.

Each of the chapters is self-contained. That means you can go straight to the chapters that interest you. You can profitably skip chapters that don’t address an issue you’re concerned with. That’s not the only good thing about the book.

Dr. Martin does a great job of putting things in context. There are excellent reviews of how thinking has changed on various issues over decades. There are excellent descriptions of how corporations dealt with various issues. You can almost count these as bonuses.

Dr. Martin himself describes the best reason for reading this book in the Afterward.

“You won’t learn by continuing to reapply the flawed model and experience its ineffectiveness; you will simply reconfirm that it doesn’t deliver. It’s by trying models, observing the results, and then experimenting with a new model when the promised results don’t materialize that you will embark on a positive learning journey.”

In a Nutshell

In A New Way to Think: Your Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness, Roger Martin presents new ways to think about some common business situations. Those lessons should shake up your thinking and lead you to try new methods so that your knowledge expands, and your organization’s results improve.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on GoodReads.


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