Random finds (2016, week 15) — On ambidexterity, innovation, and straddling different worlds

Mark Storm
9 min readApr 15, 2016

Every Friday, I run through my tweets to select a few observations and insights that have kept me thinking over the last week.

Ambidexterity, no doubt one of my favorite words

In The Case for Dual Innovation, Ralph-Christian Ohr writes that, to stay competitive, established organisations need to embrace an ambidextrous approach to innovation. Ohr started his quest for dual innovation some five years ago with a guest post on Tim Kastelle’s blog, and stil believes it’s a key innovation issue for organizations in 2016 and beyond.

“After being discounted by many innovation practitioners […], the concept of organizational ambidexterity is now finally gaining traction with rising speed,” Ohr writes. “It’s encouraging to see a couple of research studies, recently conducted by different well-known consulting firms, backing the ideas I’ve been passionately supporting for many years.” He subsequently cites four recent surveys and studies, done by BCG, Accenture, Deloitte (see also Uncharted Waters Disrupting the Corporate Boardrooms by Paul Hobcraft) and the German consulting firm Detecon, all well worth reading.

But while these studies clearly make the case, if not an imperative, for dual innovation management, they still lack a more detailed advice on the implementation issues. Another critical issue, according to Ohr, is how to set up a dedicated unit for explorative innovation (vs. exploitative innovation in core business) in terms of its scope and openness. “While the traditional notion of ‘ambidextrous organizations’ assumes a strong ‘inhouse’ focus, where exploration is mainly fed through internal strategic initiatives, ideas and intrapreneurship, a modern understanding of organizational ambidexterity also involves an appropriate degree of external engagement and co-creation, in particular by means of collaborating with startups,” Ohr continues.

Instead of arguing whether dual innovation and organizational ambidexterity are required in today’s business world, Ohr writes, “let’s shift our focus on how those approaches can get properly implemented in order to deliver much-needed impact.” A Model for Integrative Innovation Management is Ohr’s first attempt to sort out his view of a model for modern, dual innovation management. The points made in this post can be framed in the following model for integrative innovation management.

In Corporate innovation: coordinated symphony or messy jazz?, Julian Birkinshaw, professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Academic Director of the Deloitte Institute at LBS, suggested three mechanisms for corporate innovation to succeed:

  • Companies need to get leaner and more agile. They need to de-layer and remove processes to get closer to their customers.
  • They could choose to work directly with the start-ups threatening to disrupt them. Unilever, for example, now pitches specific challenges to innovators. It is the company’s way of getting nearer to smaller, innovative businesses.
  • Buy an innovative and experimental ‘fast second’ company through which you can enter new markets. Microsoft took this approach when it bought Skype in 2011. Money and muscle can be used to bring innovation in.

“These three mechanisms are just a small range of options available to corporates innovating. They all work. But it’s up to the organisations to choose their strategy,” according to Birkinshaw.

Companies aiming to be innovative either create highly coordinated symphonies or improvisational jazz.

And finally, three recent posts on innovation by strategy and innovation consultant Tendayi Viki:

The Old Man and The Fish

Last week I read How to Think Like an Entrepreneur by Philip Delves Broughton, published by The School of Life. It contains a moving chapter about the Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry.

Delves Broughton writes how Gehry sought the company of artists and architects, but found himself marginalised by both groups. The architects tried to belittle him by calling him ‘artist’, while the artists called him a ‘plumber’. But Gehry drew his energy from straddling these worlds.

“There was a powerful, powerful energy I was getting from this [art] scene that I wasn’t getting from the architecture world. What attracted me to them is that they worked intuitively. They would do what they wanted and take the consequences. Their work was more direct and in such contrast to what I was doing in architecture, which was so rigid. You have to deal with safety issues — fireproofing, sprinklers, handrails for stairways, things like that. You go through training that teaches you to do things in a very careful way, following codes and budgets. But those constraints didn’t speak to aesthetics.” (Frank Gehry)

Only in 1997, when the Bilbao Guggenheim opened to worldwide acclaim, Gehry’s blend of energy and competence, and his ability to bring a unique architectural vision to reality were finally recognized. He was sixty-nine.

More on Frank Gehry:

  • Sketches of Frank Gehry, a 2006 documentary by Sydney Pollack (his final film before his death in 2008) about Gehry’s life and work.

A bit more …

In The Case for Teaching Ignorance Jamie Holmes, a fellow at New America and the author of Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, writes:

“The time has come to ‘view ignorance as regular rather than deviant,’ the sociologists Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey have boldly argued. Our students will be more curious — and more intelligently so — if, in addition to facts, they were equipped with theories of ignorance as well as theories of knowledge.”

Curiosity isn’t merely a static disposition but rather a passion of the mind that is ceaselessly earned and nurtured.

“Mapping the coast of the island of knowledge […] requires a grasp of the psychology of ambiguity. The ever-expanding shoreline, where questions are born of answers, is terrain characterized by vague and conflicting information. The resulting state of uncertainty, psychologists have shown, intensifies our emotions: not only exhilaration and surprise, but also confusion and frustration.”

“The center of the island, by contrast, is safe and comforting, which may explain why businesses struggle to stay innovative. When things go well, companies ‘drop out of learning mode,’ Gary P. Pisano, a professor at Harvard Business School, told me. They flee uncertainty and head for the island’s interior.”

Read here (New York Times): http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/24/opinion/the-case-for-teaching-ignorance.html?_r=0.

In her essay Black-hole computing, Sabine Hossenfelder asks if nature’s bottomless pits actually be ultra-efficient quantum computers? This could explain why data never dies.

“After you die, your body’s atoms will disperse and find new venues, making their way into oceans, trees and other bodies. But according to the laws of quantum mechanics, all of the information about your body’s build and function will prevail. The relations between the atoms, the uncountable particulars that made you you, will remain forever preserved, albeit in unrecognisably scrambled form — lost in practice, but immortal in principle.”

“There is only one apparent exception to this reassuring concept: according to our current physical understanding, information cannot survive an encounter with a black hole. Forty years ago, Stephen Hawking demonstrated that black holes destroy information for good. Whatever falls into a black hole disappears from the rest of the Universe.”

“What is clear, though, is that this research has revealed a previously unrecognised, and quite fruitful, relation. ‘We have a very interesting bridge between quantum information and black-hole physics that was not discussed before,’ Dvali says. If he is right, the implications are conceptually staggering. Information really does live on eternally. In that sense, we are all immortal. And the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy? It’s actually a cosmic quantum computer.”

Read here (Aeon): https://aeon.co/essays/is-the-black-hole-at-our-galaxy-s-centre-a-quantum-computer.

In Why Robots Will Replace CEOs, Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, speculates that CEOs might one day join that endangered species list. (More on Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 in Mind-Clarifying System(s) on Big Think.)

“There is little or no evidence of cases in which expert judgment does better than intelligently constructed formulas.” — Daniel Kahneman

“As Go goes, so, eventually, will go business judgment. Kahneman recently attended an AI conference where Google chief Eric Schmidt described the multi-talented digital assistant he imagined having in the future. He called it Not-Eric. Kahneman was impressed by Schmidt’s vision, but wondered what would happen if Google or someone else developed a Not-Eric with business judgment. ‘One of the effects of creating algorithms that do complex things like business judgments or medical diagnoses is that the godlike feature of human judgment is eliminated,’ said Kahneman. ‘Because anybody with that algorithm can out-guess Eric Schmidt. How can this work within an organization? How does it affect the power structure?’.” (Daniel Kahneman)

Read here (Inc): http://www.inc.com/leigh-buchanan/why-robots-will-replace-ceos.html?cid=sf01001&sr_share=twitter.

Farnham Street on Charlie Munger in The Munger Operating System: How to Live a Life That Really Works. On learning how to think through problems backwards as well as forward:

“The way complex adaptive systems work and the way mental constructs work, problems frequently get easier and I would even say usually are easier to solve if you turn around in reverse. In other words if you want to help India, the question you should ask is not ‘how can I help India?’, you think ‘what’s doing the worst damage in India? What would automatically do the worst damage and how do I avoid it?’ You’d think they are logically the same thing, but they’re not. Those of you who have mastered algebra know that inversion frequently will solve problems which nothing else will solve. And in life, unless you’re more gifted than Einstein, inversion will help you solve problems that you can’t solve in other ways.” (Charlie Munger)

Read here (Farnam Street): https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2016/04/munger-operating-system.

Dan Hesse, the former CEO of Sprint, on what leaders can learn from philosophy and especially The Republic, Plato’s account of discussions between Socrates and other learned Greeks.

The first and foremost lesson, that it’s a privilege and a responsibility to lead. Socrates talks about how a good ship’s captain is more concerned with the sailors than for himself, how the good leader is more concerned with the welfare of his subjects than for his own.

Read here (Forbes): http://goo.gl/S9VaMR.

Maria Popova writes beautifully about Vannevar Bush’s 1945 essay on information overload, curation and open-access science, As We May Think.

“The human mind […] operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.” (Vannevar Bush)

Read here (Brainpickings): https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/10/11/as-we-may-think-1945.

“The world may admire the truth-tellers, but few will want to employ them.” — Charles Handy in Myself and Other More Important Matters.



Mark Storm

Helping people in leadership positions flourish — with wisdom and clarity of thought