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Roger Martin
Dean/Scholar

Roger Martin

Roger Martin is Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and author, most recently, of The Design of Business. His website is www.rogerlmartin.com

Logical leaps into the future

Apple is successful because it possesses the willingness to imagine the future, which provides sufficient practice for it to get very good at inventing the future.

Imagining and inventing the future means privileging abductive logic (the logic of what might be) rather than only deductive logic (the logic of what should be) and inductive logic (the logic of what is operative.) The latter two forms of logic extrapolate the past to predict the future. As a consequence, they are incapable of inventing a future that is different than the past. Abductive logic takes little pieces of the past and the current and makes a logical leap to imagine a future that does not now exist. In most corporations - especially big ones - such logical leaps are ruthlessly quashed with the insistence on 'proof,' and it is impossible to prove a new idea in advance of trying it.

Apple has managed to leave open the possibility of abductive logic and has limited use of deductive and inductive logic to the areas for which it is actually useful. This has resulted in Apple becoming organizationally adept at inventing the future.

Inventing the future is, of course, anything but a straightforward business. It means courting abject failure. And Apple has endured abject failure repeatedly - Lisa, Newton, the Cube. These were all painful and embarrassing blow-out failures. But rather than letting the failures stop it in its tracks, Apple kept on going and arguably has gotten better and better at inventing the future - particularly in the period following Jobs' return (from what was arguably pretty much a failure at Next).

There is a lot of what economists call 'path dependence' at work here. If you are frightened of failure, and you demand the proof generated only by deductive and inductive logic before taking a step, you won't get any practice at using abductive logic to imagine and invent the future or at making the most of failure (e.g. taking the guts of the failed Lisa and building the transformative MacIntosh). That is, sadly, the path down which many large companies start - and that path becomes self-perpetuating. If instead, you aren't paralyzed by failure, and you utilize abductive logic to imagine and invent the future, you will get better and better at it; and that is what appears to be happening at Apple.

I predict more failures at Apple; no question. But the successes will outweigh the failures and the impact of the failures will be mitigated because they will also get better and better at handling failures, because practice does make perfect.

By Roger Martin

 |  February 1, 2010; 6:07 AM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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