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2005 05 24
Re.Designing Business in Toronto
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Toronto is sitting on the biggest business opportunity of its life. We have to make sure that we don’t blow it.

The Rotman School of Management wants to save business education and management practices from the dust-bin of history. Rotman’s eureka insight? Design.

Amidst all the new architecture of the University of Toronto, Dean Roger Martin has been building a new kind of business school. The least of the ambitions Rotman has set for itself is to crack the top 10 of the world’s best B schools. More audaciously, the Rotman crew are threatening to turn the orthodoxies of business education, and the gospel according to Harvard, on its head.

Mihnea Moldoveanu, a philosophically inclined professor of strategy, with a Harvard MBA and a Ph.D in engineering from M.I.T., directs the school’s Institute for Integrative Thinking: the engine of Rotman’s intellectual capital. Glen Whyte has led the effort to rewrite of Rotman’s MBA curriculum, which synthesizes Liberal Arts thinking with B school fundamentals, and then weaves in diverse stands of oblique knowledge via its Integrative Thinking core.

Roger Martin left a dazzling career as a management consultant with Monitor Group to come back to Canada (he’s a native) to be the new dean of U of T’s newly “re-designed” business school. A huge capital contribution by Joseph Rotman got the reformation project moving, and under Martin the school has been incredibly successful at attracting investment in and attention to what he described in Fast Company as Business School 2.0 back in 1999.

Lately, however, Roger Martin has been making a lot of joyful noise about design, and its relevance to business. In the Winter 2004 issue of the Rotman magazine, he wrote:

“we must change the focus of our thinking about design and business. The trends discussed here have generated increased interest in design by the business world, but it is largely focused on ‘the business of design’: the traditional business world is trying to figure out what
designers do, how they do it, and how best to manage them. This misses the point fundamentally, and it won’t save the traditional firm. The focus should actually be placed on ‘the design of business’: We need to think much more about designing our businesses to provide elegant products and services in the most graceful manner possible. Business people don’t need to understand designers better: they need to be designers. They need to think and work like designers, have attitudes like designers, and learn to evaluate each other as designers do. Most companies' top managers will tell you that they have spent the bulk of their time over the last decade on improvement. Now it's no longer enough to get better; you have to ‘get different’.”

This is an incredible challenge. It offers up the opportunity to bring together two of this city’s most powerful resources: business and design. We all need to become a part of this ambition. Redesigning the business of Toronto is an obvious place to start.

If the past 20 years has seen the move of computing and information technology from the margins to the center of business models and practices, the next development of the knowledge economy will be the ascendancy of design. Please, let’s not let this be yet another great Canadian-born experiment that we were not courageous enough to try at home.
[email this story] Posted by Michael Anton Dila on 05/24 at 02:38 PM

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