Design Principles for a More Resilient Economy

Matthew E. May
6 min readSep 29, 2020

In his new book When More is Not Better: Overcoming America’s Obsession with Economic Efficiency, Roger Martin offers an antidote to our fragile democratic capitalism.

If you follow my work at all, you’d know that any book that focuses on less is right up my alley. I’ve made a career of advocating the subtractive approach to business, work, and life. And a book by Roger Martin, whom I consider a mentor, would be even more so.

Roger Martin is, above all, a master thinker. He’s maintained a podium position on the Thinkers50 list for years, and has penned many a book and article on the art of business thinking.

His latest tome, When More is Not Better: Overcoming America’s Obsession with Economic Efficiency, is arguably his most ambitious and far-reaching. In it, he ventures into the rather heady space of contemplating what he maintains may just be the imminent demise of America’s economy. In fact, Martin’s great hope for this book is that it will save democratic capitalism from itself.

Why, you might ask, is our economic model in need of saving, the COVID-related economic collapse aside?

Because the mental model framing our thinking — that of a machine whose performance can be optimized by decomposing it into its separate parts and optimizing each — is old and broken. Or perhaps more accurately, increasingly irrelevant and breaking down. For decades we have focused on a model based on the dogged pursuit of the perfectly efficient machine, the outcome of which has rendered the entire system far more fragile than it should be. Dangerously so, Martin argues, and with little in the way of designed-in resiliency.

A better and more robust way of thinking about our economic system, he maintains, would be to view it as a complex adaptive system. To do that, though, requires jettisoning nearly a century of economic dogma, and adopting a higher altitude of thought, one far more like nature, and far more integrative. Luckily, Martin guides us through the reframing exercise.

Matthew E. May

Senior GTM strategy advisor at Insight Partners. Co-author, What a Unicorn Knows: How Leading Entrepreneurs Use Lean Principles to Drive Sustainable Growth.