Resetting our Habits: A Design Challenge

Business thrives on habits formed by customers, but what happens when those habits change? That’s what Roger Martin speaks to and why we need to think like designers if we want to re-claim customers by helping re-set their habits (and the business processes we use to serve them).

Roger Martin, former dean of the Rotman School of Management, and ongoing educator, consultant and scholar — lives for design strategy. To Martin, every organization can benefit from design thinking and shape how and why we act through strategy.

On a recent guest episode of the Creative Confidence Podcast, Martin spoke about the role of habits in shaping business and what it means for design and strategy.

Service organizations need to proactively work to (re)-establish the habits that customers have in relationship with them. This spoke to me as I’ve started to note how many of my pre-pandemic habits have changed.

For example, every year for the last 25 I’ve spent part of my birthday going to a cafe with my journal to write about the year that passed. This was a gift to myself each year. With the pandemic, cafes are either closed to in-person dining or they lack the same comfort and feel. As another birthday passes I realize that this habit is no more; it’s been broken.

Whether it’s Friday-night rituals or daily practices, many of my habits have changed. I buy many things differently (or not at all), go far fewer places, and interact with people in new ways. Some of these changes are improvements while many are not.

What matters to the businesses and organizations I used to engage with is that they’ve lost something when it comes to interacting with me. Everyone who runs a business or delivers service or leads an organization that engages people is facing this.

We all need to become behavioural designers.

Re-Designing Habits

The pandemic will end, but if history teaches us anything about these kind of events, we won’t be the same. Sure, much of what we do will come back. Our lives aren’t over. However, the systems we live and work in are different and so are our habits. For organizations, the question is: what new habits will we create?

This is an opportunity to shape our ‘next‘, but only if we view next as something other than a ‘return to normal.’ We might do some of same things as we did before the pandemic to be sure, but many other things will change. I simply have to look at how my local cafe has turned into a bodega – and is likely to stay that way.

Temporary measures like on-street patios are now being made permanent.

People are buying things online in ways they didn’t before.

Many of us are now likely to choose consultations with a health service provider using telecare if given an option.

This is all innovation. Innovation is partly a response to changing conditions. As things change more and in greater scope, we are going to need to get better at building designing habits into our work regularly. Roger Martin’s advice isn’t just for now, it is likely for the years to come.

Design thinking is a habit we will all have to adopt and design for — pandemics or otherwise.

If you’re looking to build these skills, check out the articles section over at or reach out and speak with me.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

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