Professor Roger Martin is a writer, strategy adviser and the former Dean and current Institute Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada.
My Definition Of Success | Success means having a positive lasting impact on the world. Over time as I realized that I could have consequential positive impacts, I focused more on that as a goal. Earlier on, I think success meant getting more skilled at things – which helped with the goal of achieving impact.
I Am Driven By | I am most interested in figuring out places where models that people have in their heads actually don’t work particularly well for them and I can give them a better model. So for example, I realized that people have a model in their heads that when they are facing an either/or choice, their job is to make it, even if they don’t particularly like either choice. I helped them see, with my book The Opposable Mind, that there is a better model – the search for a creative resolution of the tension – and showed how it works. I try to do this as many times as I can.
My Highlights | I was proud to be the Dean of the Rotman School during the period where we transformed it from a mediocre regional school to an important global player. I was also proud of being a member of the global executive committee that grew Monitor Company from a start-up to a consequential global firm.
The Difference Between Good And Great | Aspiration is the key difference. Anyone can be great at what they do. They just need to pick a place to play where they can create outstanding value. Most people aren’t great because they play on a number of playing fields and don’t play to win on any of them.
A Key Talent | The key is persistence. You just have to keep at your goals even when you hit a roadblock. Many people ask me incredulously how I get so much written in my busy life. My answer is that when I get stuck on writing something, I don’t let myself get distracted by other things that are easier. I sit with the blockage and think of all the ways that I could get around it – and keep at it as long as it takes to find a way around it. People think when they read my writing: “Oh you are so smart Roger.” That is not the way I see it. I see myself has been undaunted by the numerous roadblock one hits when writing a book or a long article. Others are daunted and never get to the other side. I get there. Anybody can if they are willing to show persistence.
The Characteristics Of Success | I am curious and confident. The world puts all sorts of questions in front of our faces that I think are really interesting and I believe they were put there for us to figure out. And I typically ask: If I don’t do it, who will? And if I can’t come up with a great answer for who will, I do it myself.
Principles I Live By | First, I see myself as a flawed, imperfect being who will make mistakes and fail at times to live up to any standard that I set for myself. That will enable me to aim high and not fear making mistakes. And I aim high by attempting to obey the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Anybody who genuinely tries to follow that rule will make the world a better place, even though no human being will have a perfect record of accomplishing it.
Critical Skills I Develop | I have worked on becoming a better listener and a better writer. Both have been helpful. No matter how smart you are, others can enhance your thinking. So learn to listen. And if you want to communicate broadly, you need to learn how to write in a clear and organized fashion. Nobody is born a great writer. It is learned with hard work.
How I Use My Mind | I think long and hard. I don’t give up easily. There is always a way to figure something out. I remember watching a tennis player that I like yelling at himself after losing a game and trailing in the overall match: Figure it out! He didn’t swear at himself or berate himself or blame someone else. He encouraged himself to figure out why his opponent was outplaying him and how to overcome it. I have cheered for him ever since because I like that attitude. Don’t blame. Don’t make excuses. Figure it out!
Lessons I Have Learnt | The world is full of great people who will help you if you ask – nicely. And if you help others – who ask nicely – the world will be a much better place. People are social creatures and want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Use that to your advantage, their advantage and the world’s advantage.
Dealing With Doubt | Live to fight another day. If you have self-doubt about something, don’t let it destroy you. It can if you ignore it and charge ahead. You might experience a defeat that will destroy your confidence long term. Listen to your heart and step back. Then figure it out! Figure out another way to approach the situation at hand and follow that route, not the exact one that filled you with self-doubt. If someone asks you to stand up and present to a crowd of 1000 and that fills you with self-doubt, don’t do it. Find a crowd of 100 to test out your skills. And when that feels easy, go try a crowd of 500 and then one of 1000.
Performing At My Peak | I don’t. I sometimes perform badly. Don’t set unreasonable goals. Nobody is perfect. No one performs at one’s peak 100% of the time. Recognize that there are ups and downs and when you are not on your game, dial back what you are trying to accomplish rather than ignoring what life and your heart are telling you.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | I don’t read nearly enough. It is bad behavior on my part. Oh well. My methodology for getting better is to spend my time working on really hard problems with really cool and smart people. I can’t help but get better by doing that.
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | I want to leave a legacy of having destroyed a number of thinking models that are profoundly unhelpful to the world and replace them with ones that are most productive; that help people produce outcomes that they actually want.
The Meaning Of Life | To help others in a way that makes the world a better place.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | Always start your day working on the hardest problem not the easiest. When you solve the hardest problem, lots of the easier ones just disappear. When you solve an easy problem, the hardest ones are busily getting bigger while you were wasting your time on the easy ones.
Advice On Building Wealth | Don’t aspire to grow rich and build wealth. As Aristotle explained: If you seek to become happy, you won’t. If you seek to lead a noble life, you will probably end up happy.
On Inspiring Others | Think about them not you. Do everything in your power to help them succeed. Don’t think about yourself; think about them. If you do that, great people will flock to work with you.
I Am Inspired By | My parents. My entrepreneur dad who taught me that the job of a business is to serve its customers brilliantly and treat its employees like family. Then, everything else will take care of itself. My elementary school teacher turned family therapist mother who taught me that nothing in life is more important that empathizing with and understanding others.