Thursday, June 07, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 7 - managing as designing

In this week's class we looked at the work of academics who propose that designing is a metaphor of value to businesspeople - a way to think about how they might go about their practice, especially in contexts of uncertainty and ambiguity, in the design of all different kinds of forms whether organizations or new ventures.

The two key thinkers in this area are polymath and Nobel prize winner Herbert Simon and Donald Schon. Simon - whose "The Sciences of the Artificial" (1969) provides some of the most ubiquitous quotes in this field - argues that designing underpins all human activity in what he calls the realm of the "artificial". While he proposes that a science of design will be an important area of study and suggests some of its topics, Simon's intellectual foundations in technorationalism make the detail of his ideas unattractive to those who are attentive to the social contexts in which people do things. Schon's "The Reflective Practitioner" (1983) uses emprical studies of how professionals of different kinds go about their practice to propose that problem framing, not just problem solving, is a significant activity for professionals.

The more recent readings are from Boland & Collopy, whose event Managing as Designing in 2002 brought together a wide range of scholars and practitioners interested in exploring this idea. The event led to a publication of the same name (Stanford Business Books, 2004). Writing by Jeanne Liedtka on strategy as design, and Roger Martin on the design of business, is based on the argument that managers should be more like designers. Translating some of the ideas emerging in design research since the 1960s, Liedtka and Martin are reaching a new audience - both are based in business schools (Martin is Dean of the Rotman School, Toronto). After a century in which management education has moved from the scientific closer to the social, I think it'll take a while to absorb ideas from the arts and humanities.

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