Understanding The Ambidextrous Organization
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The Roman god Janus had two sets of eyes - one pair focusing on what lay
behind, the other on what lay ahead. General Managers and corporate executives
should be able to relate. They, too, must constantly look backward, attending to
the products and processes of the past, while also gazing forward, preparing for
the innovations that will define the future.
This mental balancing act can be one of the toughest of all managerial
challenges - it requires executives to explore new opportunities even as they
work diligently to exploit existing capabilities - and it's no surprise that few
companies do it well. Most successful enterprises are adept at refining their
current offerings, but they falter when it comes to pioneering radically new
products and services. Kodak and Boeing are just two of the more recent examples
of once dominant companies that have failed to adapt to market changes.
Kodak excelled at analog photography but hasn't been able to make the leap to
digital cameras. Boeing, a longtime leader in commercial aircraft, has
experienced difficulties in its defense-contracting businesses and has recently
stumbled in the face of competition from Airbus.
The failure to achieve breakthrough innovations while also making steady
improvements to an existing business is so commonplace - and so fascinating -
that it has become a battleground of management thought. For decades, scholars
have spun theories to explain the puzzle and offered advice on how to solve it.
Some have argued that there's no way out of the conundrum, that established
companies simply lack the flexibility to explore new territory.
Some have suggested that big companies adopt a venture capital model, funding
exploratory expeditions but otherwise staying out of their way. Others have
pointed to cross-functional teams as the key to creating breakthrough
innovations. Still others have claimed that a company may be able to shift back
and forth between different organizational models, focusing on exploitation for
a period and then moving into exploration mode.
We recently decided to test these and other theories by taking a close look
at the real world, examining how actual, contemporary businesses fare when they
attempt to pursue innovations that lie beyond their current products or markets.
Do they succeed in achieving breakthroughs? Do their existing businesses suffer?
What organizational and managerial structures do they use? What works, and what
We discovered that some companies have actually been quite successful at both
exploiting the present and exploring the future, and as we looked more deeply at
them we found that they share important characteristics. In particular, they
separate their new, exploratory units from their traditional, exploitative ones,
allowing for different processes, structures, and cultures; at the same time,
they maintain tight links across units at the senior executive level.
In other words, they manage organizational separation through a tightly
integrated senior team. We call these kinds of companies "ambidextrous
organizations," and we believe they provide a practical and proven model for
forward-looking executives seeking to pioneer radical or disruptive innovations
while pursuing incremental gains.
"The Ambidextrous Organization", Charles A. O'Reilly III and Michael L.
Tushman, Harvard Business Review, April 2004.
About the Author
Melih ("may-lee") Oztalay, CEO SmartFinds Internet Marketing Web:
email@example.com CJPS Enterprises offers entrepreneurial leadership to
companies looking for explosive growth.
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-03-13 15:05:23 in Business Articles