Charles A. O’Reilly, Michael L. Tushman (2004)
Corporate executives 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 is 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. But as every businessperson knows, there are companies that do. What’s their secret? These organizations separate their new, exploratory units from their traditional, exploitative ones, allowing them to have different processes, structures, and cultures, at the same time, they maintain tight links across units at the senior executive level. Such ambidextrous organizations, as the authors call them, allow executives to pioneer radical or disruptive innovations while also pursuing incremental gains. Of utmost importance to the ambidextrous organization are ambidextrous managers - executives who have the ability to understand and be sensitive to the needs of very different kinds of businesses. They possess the attributes of rigorous cost cutters and free-thinking entrepreneurs while also maintaining the objectivity required to make difficult trade-offs. Almost every company needs to renew itself through the creation of breakthrough products and processes, but it shouldn’t do so at the expense of its traditional business. Building an ambidextrous organization is by no means easy, but the structure itself, combining organizational separation with senior team integration, is not difficult to understand. Given the executive will to make it happen, any company can become ambidextrous.
Published in Harvard Business Review