Being An Innovator With Professor Roger Martin

Naturally, being an innovator is something that highly desired in whatever field you’re in, but innovation is not something you can just attain without doing the right work to get to that point. Being an innovator requires you to be able to work well while keeping in mind both the past and the possible future you’ve envisioned from the data you’re observing. Professor Roger Martin is a writer, strategy advisor, and is currently the #1 ranked management thinker in the world. Roger speaks to Diane Hamilton about how one can come across innovation in the things they do. The world needs more innovators, and you might just be the next one!

TTL 663 | Being An Innovator


We have Roger Martin here. Roger is the number one management thinker in the world. I don’t know if I need to say anything more than that. He’s Thinkers50’s number one rated management thinker. He has many amazing ideas about many different things that you don’t want to miss this.

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Being An Innovator With Professor Roger Martin

Professor Roger Martin is a writer, strategy advisor and number one ranked management thinker in the world. He’s the former Dean and Institute Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada. He was named number one in the world management thinker by Thinkers50. He’s also published eleven books, the latest of which are Creating Great Choices, Getting Beyond Better and Playing to Win. It’s nice to have you here, Roger.

It’s great to be with you, Diane. I’m looking forward to this.

I was impressed with everything that you’ve been working on. We met at a Thinkers50 in London and it’s such an amazing group of people to be. What is it like to make it to number one on that group?

I cannot lie, it feels nice. I was circling around that for a while. I was number six and I was number three and I was number seven. I knew I was on their proverbial radar, but it felt nice. For me, what I’ve attempted to do, like Peter Drucker’s my hero and I know nobody will ever replace Peter Drucker or kept on that status, but he talked about a lot of things in management. The people who get near the top of the Thinkers50 are known for one thing. I was pleased that following in Drucker’s footsteps and talking about a lot of things related to management was still valued as a contribution, not doing the more modern thing if you will. Focusing on one narrow thing and getting big and important on the base of that one narrow thing.

I understand what you’re saying because I know that my work with curiosity gets recognized, but I like to focus on all kinds of behaviors that perception and different things all tie into business success. When I was watching some of your talks, I was drawn to your discussion of Aristotle. Can we get into that? I’d love that. Before we do, I want to get a background. You’re a nice guy. Everybody from Canada seems nice. We always stereotype you. Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got to this point.

It’s improbable. I grew up in a town of then 50 people. It’s now gigantic. When I go back and visit it, it’s got to be at least 200. They even put a subdivision of three houses into it. That was in a south-central farming country in Canada. I then got it into my head during high school that I would do an unusual thing and attempt to go to Harvard College, which I ended up doing studying economics. I needed an excuse to be in Cambridge, Massachusetts because I wanted to coach the Harvard varsity men’s volleyball team that I played on for a few years after graduating. My then-girlfriend was going to go into the Kennedy School to do a Master’s there. My cover story was I was going to do a Harvard MBA so that I could coach and hang out with my girlfriend. I did that. I then met up with a bunch of guys in my section and elsewhere at Harvard Business School and keeping Mike Porter and help build this strategy company called Monitor in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

As a Canadian living down there, the president of the University of Toronto met me because he was on the board of a company I consulted to and decided I should because of the business school dean. Rob Prichard is the single, most persuasive man I’ve ever met. He talked me into leaving Boston, leaving a relatively high-paying job to do public services as the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, which I did for several years until I term-limited out. I’ve spent a bunch of time consulting with CEOs on strategy running a business school and writing about strategic management and economics. That’s what got me to where I am now.

TTL 663 | Being An Innovator
Being An Innovator: Aristotle is the world’s first true scientist and the creator of what we now know as the Scientific Method.


You definitely have an impressive background. Are you still the Institute Director at the Martin Prosperity Institute?

I stepped down from that and wound up at the Martin Prosperity Institute in the summer of ‘19. I like things to be time-limited. This was a time-limited project, six years as it turned out. It was five originally, but I extended that to six years, studying the future of democratic capitalism in America. I’ll be back with my head in the last draft because the final manuscript is due March 1 for my book that’s called When More is Not Better: Overcoming America’s Obsession with Economic Efficiency. It’s about what’s wrong with democratic capitalism right now and what needs to happen to fix it.

You do get all over the board. It’s all interesting stuff. I want to touch on that, but let’s start with the Aristotle thing first. I found that fascinating because of my research in curiosity. Give me the story, his two books, the whole thing.

The thing about Aristotle is super important to the world because he was the first true scientist and the guy who created the scientific method. I know we all think that Bacon, Newton, Descartes and Galileo created the scientific method, but they formalized a method that Aristotle, in the fourth century BC, first established. He established a methodology for demonstrating the cause of a particular effect. His methodology involved experimentation essentially. You experiment enough to be able to say this causes that. If I have a rock in my hand and I let go of it, it drops. It can always have at this rate. We can say there’s a universal force called gravity that pushes that rock down. Although Aristotle didn’t write any books, he wrote a series of essays that are compiled into what’s now called Posterior Analytics, which is probably the most important book ever written in the history of science that formalizes his method for demonstrating a cause of a given effect, not the scientific method. It’s because of Aristotle that we have management analytics and data analytics and all of that where we say in management these days, “I need to have the data to prove that this is a good thing to do.”

Whatever we’re talking about is a good thing to do. I’ve done the analysis, I’ve been rigorous and that’s it. That all derives from Aristotle. It went through the Dark Ages where nobody bought into it. Eventually, the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, and in management, that revolution probably started in the early twentieth century with Frederick Winslow Taylor, scientific management, and it’s accelerated in the last half of the twentieth century. Now, data analytics is the coolest thing. Aristotle warned the world about the method. What he said was, “I see two parts of the world.” One part of the world is the part of the world that he characterized, in Greek, but as the part of the world where things cannot be other than they are. I love the turn of phrase. Back to that rock, things cannot be other than they are. I dropped that rock and it falls. I drop it here, in Antarctica, in India, from a mountain, in a valley, it always falls. It’s part of the world where things cannot be other than they are.

What he said is that part of the world by methodology is sound essentially. If I experiment and take data from the past, it is a perfect predictor of the future because it’s the part of the world where things cannot be other than they are as tautological. He said, “There’s another part of the world and it’s the part of the world where things can be other than they are.” The example I often use was in 1998, were you tethered to your smartphone and you couldn’t do anything unless your smartphone was within arms’ length? The answer is no because they didn’t exist. The first Blackberry came onto the market in 1999. Between 1999 and now, everything has changed that you can’t survive. You get the hives if you’re more than an arm’s length from your smartphone. That’s part of the world where things can be other than they are. Specifically, he said, “In that part of the world, do not use my methodology that I’ve laid out in Posterior Analytics and you can understand why. If you’re analyzing past data to decide what to do in the part of the world where things can be other than they are, you’ll convince yourself that things cannot be other than they are.

Since it doesn’t exist yet, you can’t utilize that thought process because there’s no past reason to use it.

There’s no data. Last time I checked, all the data in the world, it comes from one era, the past. There is no data but the future yet. What he said is in that part of the world and the parts of the world where things can be other than they are, the rigorous process for making a decision, because you’ve still got to decide what to do in that part of the world is not like, that doesn’t suspend the need for deciding. In that part of the world, you must imagine possibilities and choose the one for which the most compelling argument can be made. He wrote about that in a book called Rhetoric. As much as Posterior Analytics is read, Rhetoric is unread. What we think of as being rigorous, when a CEO or a board says to management, “If you proved that up, we’d do it.” They don’t realize they’re offending Aristotle. Who would say then you’re guaranteeing you’re going to have no innovation, no new ideas, no nothing? That is not how innovation comes about.

[bctt tweet=”Innovation comes about by imagining possibilities and then choosing the one for which the most compelling argument can be made. ” username=””]

Innovation comes about by imagining possibilities and then choosing the one for which the most compelling argument can be made. What Aristotle was getting at is that it’s not as though it’s all random. You say, “We’ll try this. We’ll try that.” He said, “It’s the process of argumentation between people that says, “Does this make sense? Does the logic of this make sense?” It’s not logic backed by rigorous data, but it’s logic backed by essential slivers of things analogy. Over there, this thing worked. This is what I think of how people operate, so this might work yet possibly. The possibility there, which gets to your curiosity, Diane. Aristotle didn’t say this.

I would interpret what Aristotle did say about the origin of things about changing the world. What he said it’s a job, the job as human beings in the part of the world where things cannot be other than they are is to understand the causes of the existing effect essentially, so we can optimize to those. We figured out that all these people who are smoking cigarettes get lung cancer. We can say, “We’ve got to try and stop people from smoking.” That’s understanding the cause of the given effect so that we can do something useful. He said this is in front of the world where things can be other than they are.

It makes me happy to say it. The job of people is to be the cause of a new effect, which is great. That’s your job. Your job is not to understand the causes of the effect. It’s to be the cause of a new effect. How do you make that happen? You have to be curious. You have to say, “What could be going on here?” You have to be able to take tiny pieces of observations. A curious person is a person who is curious about phenomena that might suggest something else. Famously Jony Ive, the great Apple designer, when you ask the question, “Why were iMacs the colors they were, that tangerine, grape and aquamarine. Where did that come from?” The answer is nowhere and not without any data, but it wasn’t rigorous data. It was an observation that Jony Ive made.

The observation you made is 20, 25 years before an obscure camera company called Sevilla came up with a line of colored cameras. Think about before that, all cameras were dark brown or black. Before the iMac, all computers were gray, brown or black. This camera company says, “Maybe we can do something and it’s frame-breaking here.” Sure enough, they come out with this camera line that was quite successful, although everybody was aghast. How can you make a camera tangerine-colored? Guess where Jony Ive got the exact pantones for the iMac? From that. I would argue he had a curiosity about this is a consumer product. This is how people conceive of it.

What if I broke their frame entirely with an everyday object that they’re used to being a certain color and broke their frame? Not everybody would like it. Some people probably revolted by it, but some people will love it. While I’m at it, why don’t I use the exact colors? It sure worked for them. I don’t think a non-curious person could ever come up with that because he or she wouldn’t be curious about what was going on there in that other situation then that has some relevance here. No database irrelevance. Jony Ive could not have gone to anybody and said, “I’ve got the data that demonstrates this will be a success.” In fact, even though people think that Steve Jobs was responsible for the iMac because it was the first big project product that came out after his return from exile.

It’s true and not true. It was apparently sitting ready to go in Jony Ive’s lab, but he couldn’t get approval for it because it was too weird and radical. There are apocryphal stories. I don’t know for sure. Jobs, when he gets back, goes to see Jony Ive, sees the iMac in his lab or his office. “What is that?” Ive explained it to him and he says, “We’re going into production.” He didn’t create, conceptualize or anything. That was somebody else, but because Steve Jobs did not have a rule in his mind that says you have to prove everything with data before we do it. He said, “We’re doing that. That’s a good idea.”

It’s an interesting story and it makes me think of things I’ve seen Steve Jobs talk about. He talks about how he thinks you need to go to your customers to find out what they want before you create it to some extent. Elon Musk has said, “I didn’t ask. I created.” Steve Jobs also used his calligraphy to create fonts. How much do you go out there and ask people what they want or how much do you rely on your own inquisitiveness? There’s much to innovation that requires curiosity. It’s interesting to see two of the most successful minds and how they differ in that respect.

My view of both Musk and Jobs is they are disinformation machines. I don’t think Steve Jobs ever gave away his methodology for anything. There were many smokescreens and you have to watch what they do, not what they say. Oscar Wilde said that you have to be a world-class noticer. I like the notion that the world is chockablock full of an infinite amount of weird and wonderful data. Observations, things you can observe that the most usefully creative people have a filtering system that causes them to notice some things and not others. If you say this person, you should be observant. Know what advice is that. If the opposite is different on his face, it isn’t particularly a worthy idea. You should notice. What should you bring into your brain versus let float essentially past your eyes and nose? To me, people who are usefully creative, which is creative in a way that other people say, “I’m glad you did that creative thing,” as opposed to, “Why did you do that?” Be able to be usefully creative, have a way of participating in the universe that causes them to gather up snippets, pieces of ideas, data observation that enable them to say, “Maybe this will work.”

TTL 663 | Being An Innovator
Being An Innovator: People who are great innovators have a dynamic, systemic view in their heads of what people like based on their observations.


I do think that if you’re trying to build something that you’re going to sell the people, getting closer to those potential buyers or users is a good thing. The people who are great innovators don’t just do that. They also have this system dynamic view in their head of what about what I’ve observed that person would like. Could I produce a product or service at a cost that I could imagine they’d be willing to bear and that I could produce in a systematic way enough to serve these people? You have to have a way of thinking about users and what things they might be missing that they don’t even realize, and then a productive system that would enable you to deliver those. Those two things have to be integrated together to have a useful idea rather than a novel idea.

It brings to mind some of the things I looked up in my research on the curiosity of divergent and convergent thinking and some of the stuff from George Land that he did with NASA. I thought one of his talks that he gave was interesting when he talks about how he likens it to divergent and convergent thinking to putting on the gas and putting on the brake. He says, “The problem we have is that we do them both at the same time.” We do it too quickly. If you put on the gas and the brake at the same time, you don’t go far. That’s what we do with our ideas. We come up with these great ideas, but then we overthink and criticize them. That’s what I’m hoping to work with people with the curiosity aspect. I know you have some great examples of your work with Procter & Gamble, with all these companies that you’ve worked with. I know you’ve talked about Olay and what they’ve done. I’m curious if you had any examples you wanted to share how companies have utilized curiosity to overcome status quo thinking and what they did that you thought was especially helpful to them?

Before diving into examples, I can also say that that the techniques that I use to stop people from getting negative quickly on an idea is my favorite question, which you may have read it, which is what would have to be true. If you were to say to me that Diane says, “Roger, this would be a great idea,” rather than I say, “What’s your data to support it? Can you prove that to me?” I say, “Let’s do a little exercise. Let’s figure out what would have to be true for that to be the awesome idea you think it is. What would have to be true about customers? What would have to be true about the distribution channels? What would have to be true about potential competitors? What would have to be true about our capabilities? What would have to be true about the cost structure?” You build a picture of the things that would have to be true for that to be a good idea.

You can go and ask the question, not, “Are those things true?” because the answer is mainly no. You can say, “What would we have to do to make each of those things true?” Customers have never heard of this, so they wouldn’t flock. What would we have to do? We’d have to create some programs that enable people would be consumers out there to experience it. We have to sample it or do this or that or whatever. What I try to do is make it into a creative exercise of asking the question, “Can we make enough things true to say this is a good idea. Can we imagine a plan to make enough things true?” That keeps it in the positive domain rather than evaluation by way of essential critique and looking at the shortfalls. It’s an evaluation by looking at what I call the happy story.

Tell me a happy story of what this would look like and then let’s work backward from the happy story to say what stuff we would have to do to make that happy story come true? In terms of examples, somebody thinks one of the things that was a fun one was I had the great privilege of working with one of the smartest women I’ve ever met, Tina Brown, on the turnaround of The New Yorker Magazine. She famously turned around Vanity Fair and then got put on the tough job of turning on to The New Yorker, which is money-losing and sliding dramatically.

One of the challenges of The New Yorker was because of what The New Yorker had been. At one time, it was absolutely the dominant magazine. In terms of selling ads, it’s all the highest dollars per page in all metrics, but it no longer had that advantages and was struggling. If the Condé Nast folks hadn’t bought it, it would probably long since succumbed. We had to think about how you could get people to pay high rates for ad pages when if you looked at the demographics of The New Yorker reader, they weren’t as rich as people think they are. They weren’t as urban as people think. They’re mixed men and women, about 50-50, which is the worst mix you want for magazines because advertisers much more like a woman’s magazine or a man’s magazine. It’s not like one is better than the other, but 50-50 is the worst.

We had to come up with what is it about The New Yorker readers that would cause you to want to pay a higher premium, higher CPMs per viewer than you would for a competitor’s? That’s who we were selling. What occurred to me was that there is something different about New Yorker readers than the reader of an average magazine, which is that the New Yorker reader is a curious person who’s interested in the latest thinking across a whole bunch of domains. If you think about The New Yorker, there will be articles about politics, the science articles, about sports, every book, everything under the sun.

That’s also bad for advertisers too because they’d rather have it be targeted. At a cocktail party or a dinner, who is everybody going to be listening to? It’s going to be The New Yorker reader who is currently on the most interesting subjects of the day, regardless of the topic area. What is The New Yorker? The New Yorker is the perfect launch vehicle. If you’re advertising the next upgrade of this car or that car, no, but if you’re launching a brand-new SUV, a brand-new drug, a brand-new movie, whatever, that’s what you need The New Yorker for. It was sold. This is not hype. This is absolutely true. Part of the turnover of The New Yorker was selling it as the launch vehicle and selling to advertisers who are launching something new and distinct and needed to generate buzz. The way to generate buzz was to have The New Yorker readers knowing about it, thinking about it.

[bctt tweet=”The world contains an infinite amount of weird and wonderful data you can observe. ” username=””]

That showcases the importance of all the question asking you to do. I love that you ask many questions because it’s exactly what I like.

I have a few answers compared to the mysteries out there.

You advocate for asking so many questions. In your book that you wrote with AG Lafley, he was the former CEO of Procter & Gamble. You have written a book with him and that’s been popular. You talk about asking five essential questions, which are important to strategy choices. I was thinking of all that while you’re talking about your stories. Those questions come up in many respects. You gave a talk with Des from Thinkers50. You said that they went through this process. I want to talk about those five questions quickly and then I want to share about your latest book. What are they? Why are they important?

They’re the five questions that lay out the logic of strategy. What you will notice in my work that I ask more questions about logic than I ask about data. When you think about it, two things are conflated in the world that I don’t think it’s helpful in people’s minds. They think of this thing called analysis. You’ve got to analyze stuff. Analysis is two things. It’s a logic structure to which you add data. The logic structure would be something like, “I think that the bigger the factory is, the more it can spread its fixed cost. The lower cost per unit you’ll get.” That’s a logic structure. Let’s suggest something.

Data is we’ve looked at our 100 factories of varying sizes and sure enough, bigger is cheaper. When you’re talking about the future, there is no data, but then people think you can’t be analytical. I say you can. You can have the logic precise. The question is, how do you produce some data into the future that will help you confirm or disconfirm your logic? These five questions are about the logic of strategy. What’s your winning aspiration? Where will you play? Where will you plop yourselves down in the playing field? How will you win where you’ve chosen to play? What capabilities would need to be in place for you to win or you’ve chosen to play? What are management systems necessary to build, to maintain the capabilities that enable you to win where you’ve chosen to play, to meet your winning aspiration?

Those five questions lay out the logic of a strategic choice. I tried to get people to think about that and to come up with a bunch of those. Here are five choices that would work together and put that on the shelf, here’s another one, and here’s another one. I only ask what would have to be true about customers, the company competitors that would cause that logic structure to be more valid than not. What can we do to try and make that a reality? I start from the logic structure of those five questions and work backward into the data with a recognition that the way to do something new and cool is to create the data. You’ve got to prototype and try stuff to figure out how we have to modify it to get the result that we want.

As you’re talking about all this stuff, I’m interested in your discussion about how to produce data into the future thing. I get a lot of questions about what data is out there to prove that curiosity helps improve innovation or curiosity helps improve engagement or productivity or whatever it is that they’re trying to solve. There isn’t research specifically on the questions that they ask. How do you produce a solution or data for that type of a thing for people who want to say, “How can we know that this is going to work? How much money is this going to save us?” Do you deal with situations like that in research?

All the time. This is one of the reasons why I wrote the Aristotle HBR article with a friend, Tony Smith. One of the things you have to help these people to understand is what Charles Sanders Peirce, this great American philosopher, said 100 years ago. “No new idea in the history of the world has been proven in advance analytically.” Often when people say to me, “Can you prove that new idea, Roger?” I’ll say, “That would be the first time in human history that’s ever been done. We can give it a whirl, but I don’t know.” The person that you’re referring to that we’re talking about is the person who I call reliability focus. They focus on producing consistent, replicable outcomes, whereas you, Miss Curiosity, are what I’d characterize as a validity-oriented person.

TTL 663 | Being An Innovator
Being An Innovator: People are either reliability-oriented or validity-oriented, and this shapes your perceptions.


You’re interested in producing an outcome that you want. A reliable train will get to the station on time. A valid train will get to the station that you want it to be at. Those are not the same thing. For reliability or in person, the problem for them with the future is there is no data from the future, so that anything about the future is to them entirely speculative. The future is useless. To the validity-oriented person, you can test yourself on this, Diane. You’re fascinated with the future. We could do this, we could do that, and that would be cool. You’re focused on it. That scares the bejesus out of the reliability-oriented person. What I say your job is to turn the future into the past productively.

How do we do that? What do I mean by that? What I mean is what you’ve got to do to the reliability person or for the reliability person is to say, “I’m going to try this prototype. It’s not going to be terribly expensive. I’m predicting that the following will happen. If I’m wrong, it isn’t going to kill us because I haven’t spent a whole bunch of money on it. If I’m right, then we will have data.” The problem with the next six months is it’s in the future, so there is no data. That’s the bad thing about the next six months. The good thing about the next six months is in six months, there will be all sorts of data because you’d be standing there looking backward. You’d have to do it productively. If you don’t tell the person that, then it doesn’t count. This is like Babe Ruth pointing to center field and then hitting it out. What you’ve got to do is say, “Here’s what I think is going to happen.” Often, if you bring the reliability-oriented person along on that little journey, when you get out there, they’ll turn into the wacko saying, “Why haven’t we done more of this already? We should verbalize this.” They’re the biggest fan. The best innovators are the ones that figure out how to productively turn the future into the past. They do that by not doing something that’s dangerous for the entity.

They say, “We’ve got to do this in a way that’s not going to be a shot below the waterline if it fails,” and they involve the people in it who need that proof because there are reliability-oriented people who won’t do what you and I will do. Which is to say, “I believe this and I’m going to do it.” That’s what I did as Dean of the business school at the University of Toronto. I said, “I believe this and we’re going to do it.” As the boss, I can do it and we build a little momentum and then people would let me get away with more stuff. It was all happy, but that is not always the situation.

What you’re saying is what I’m doing with Novartis, I’m working with Verizon, and big companies, at Novartis, one of their employees is writing her doctoral dissertation on curiosity and is using my Curiosity Code Index and other assessments to measure, to get the data. That’s what we’re doing. It’s a little test group of 200, 400 people and then you move on to the rest of the organization once you get your data. That works for a lot of companies. I love how you describe that because all of these ties into my next book which is on perception.

Perception is a seriously tricky subject. That’ll be good. There needs to be more on that, like why it is that people’s perception of the same thing is different. That’s one of life’s most interesting questions.

If you pull in IQ, EQ, cultural quotient, curiosity question and a couple of CQs in there and it all came together for me when I was researching it. Everybody’s focused on cultural quotient and certain things, but it’s so holistic to add it all together to see if it pulls in the empathy part of them. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence, so I’m fascinated by resolving all of that. It’s all-important in the end product. That’s why I’m fascinated by the title you have when you mentioned your latest book what’s wrong with democratic capitalism?

Although before we go there, can we do something first? For your work on perception, if you haven’t read it, you should read my 2009 book, The Design of Business. It goes into this reliability versus validity thing and that dramatically shapes perceptions. People are either reliability-oriented or validity-oriented, and that may be helpful to you in your perception research.

It definitely would be. It’s hard when you’re writing about perception because there’s the perception of everything. Whether you see blue or you get gold on the picture or whatever it is. What I was trying to focus on was in the business world, if you wanted to open a business, say in Africa, and how you’re perceived by people who want to do business with you. If you want to open a business in Canada, it’s a little different wherever you are. It was more meant as a global, so you’re able to see people or see yourself as others see you and not be so stuck on only your own perception of the world. That’s such a fascinating thing to look at for doing global business. My perception of what’s right, what’s wrong, and that’s why I wanted to talk about your last book because of the perception, you’re saying what is wrong with democratic capitalism? Can you give us a little teaser on your book?

[bctt tweet=”The best innovators are the ones who can productively turn the future into the past. ” username=””]

What I’m focusing on is that American democratic capitalism worked in a certain way for 200 years, from 1776 to 1976, for the first 200 years of independence. In virtually all of the 90-plus percent of the years, the average family in the country moved forward. That’s important especially the median family. If you want democracy, everybody gets to vote. The majority gets to form the government. You want capitalism, which is basically the most productive assets are in private hands. Most markets set the prices for things as opposed to a planned economy. Like the Soviet Union, the five-year plans were planning everything. If you want capitalism and democracy together, it’s super important for the median family to be moving ahead because they’re metaphorically the swing voter. If they don’t move ahead, they’re going to say, “How about another system?” For those 200 years, democracy and capitalism in America produced that. Since 1776, the median income increase has dramatically flattened. The median family in America is not getting ahead at any reasonable pace anymore. The last time that happened was the Great Depression.

The good thing about the Great Depression, number one was the top 1% and 10% suffered more declines than the median. Americans could say, “This totally sucks, but at least we’re all in it together.” The other thing is it didn’t last all that long. It was painfully long for the people receiving it. If you look back on it, an average family in 1929 had recovered by 1939, their income level, and in another five years, so in fifteen years their income had doubled from 1929. At least it came back fantastically. Everybody was in it together. In this latest period, at the current pace, it’s going to take the median family of 1976 100 years to double their income as opposed to fifteen. We’re not in it together. The top 1%, the top 10%, but especially in the top 1%, are doing better than they’ve ever done in American history, and it isn’t even close. There’s a divergence between the average American and the high-end-economically American. That’s dangerous to democratic capitalism. In the Great Depression, most of Europe, plus Japan, who went either communist fascist or heavily socialist, America shifted some to the left.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s new deal was a less world shift politically, but still staunchly democratic and capitalist. I’m saying that we are playing with fire on that. I started this project in 2013, before we had Bernie Sanders running for president, but what’s now considered highly acceptable, by at least young voters, socialism. Essentially, what I predicted would happen is happening, which is people are deeply questioning whether democratic capitalism can work. The book is about why that’s happening, why it’s working differently now than it worked for the first 200 years and what things we can do about it. That’ll be out in September.

I’m looking forward to that. I’m thinking of in a perception angle of your view of capitalism from a Canadian standpoint versus a US standpoint. I know you said that every professor should consider what problems that you could solve. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve with this book? Are you shedding light on the issue? Do you think that by reading this book, are we going to be able to solve a problem?

That’s the idea. This book is an unusual book in the genre. Most of these political economy books are 80% here’s the problem and 20% here are some fixes. This book is 40% here’s the problem and 60% here are the fixes. There’s a comprehensive program that says, “If you want democratic capitalism to survive and thrive in America,” which I do. Like many, I started out outside the US. I do love the US, even though it’s unpopular now to say that. I frankly worry a great deal about the success of undemocratic capitalism in China. It’s doing great with illiberal on democratic capitalism. They still say that it’s a communist country, but they’re embracing all sorts of capitalism in the most rural and democratic fashion.

TTL 663 | Being An Innovator
Being An Innovator: Curiosity is a critical and direct link to improving motivation and communication-based issues that challenge organizations.


I want democratic capitalism to win because I believe that everybody should have a vote and that is how you should run a country. The purpose of this book is to help America go back to essentially leading the world as a model. You can have a well-functioning democracy and capitalism working together. People are questioning that now, not without some reason. It’s because we’ve made some mistakes in the way we think about and perceive the economy and how it works. I want to change that. We perceive it as our model of the economy is as a perfectible machine. It’s a natural system. It’s a complex adaptive system. We’ve got to start managing it as a complex adaptive system. That means business executives, political leaders, educators and citizens have to behave differently in several respects and adopt a more realistic model of how the economy actually works.

I liked the title. You get attention when you ask questions like that. It reminded me when I interviewed John Tammany about why we don’t need the fed. When you ask these questions about why this is not working or what is wrong with this, that’s provocative and it gets people thinking. I’m excited since you’re the number one thinker in the world and I love all that you’re working on. We covered much and this is fun to talk to you. Thank you because this is a wealth of information and people can use this in many different ways for so much that they do in their business. I know a lot of people want to probably find out how they can get your books or reach out to you. Is there some link?

All the stuff that I’ve ever written is on my website, which is You can find it all there. My Twitter is @RogerLMartin.

Roger, there’s a lot of pressure on you to stay number one.

I will do my best. This was a pleasure. I’d be happy to do it anytime.

Thank you. I hope to see you at the next Thinkers50. I’m going to check out that section of your book on validity, reliability because that’s a great discussion for perception.

I’d like to thank Roger for being my guest. We get many guests that are amazing like Roger. If you’ve missed any past interviews, you can go to and find out more. There’s great information there. You can also find out more about Cracking The Curiosity Code and all the information on how to become certified to give the Curiosity Code Index. Everything’s there so I hope you check it out. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Professor Roger Martin

TTL 663 | Being An InnovatorProfessor Roger Martin is a writer, strategy advisor and currently #1 ranked management thinker in world. He is also former Dean and Institute Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada. In 2017, Roger was named the world’s #1 management thinker by Thinkers50, a biannual ranking of the most influential global business thinkers. He has published 11 books the most recent of which are Creating Great Choices written with Jennifer Riel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017) Getting Beyond Better written with Sally Osberg (HBRP, 2015) and Playing to Win written with A.G. Lafley (HBRP, 2013), which won the award for Best Book of 2012-13 by the Thinkers50.

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