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Ambidextrous Innovation: The Method

This week I talked a little bit about why balancing short-term and long-term innovation can significantly affect the outcome of strategic efforts, and how failing to establish harmony between immediate and future innovation can result in unnecessary sacrifices. To avoid a loss of competitive advantage or shaky projections, you can turn to organizational ambidexterity, an innovation management process that allows you to map out simultaneous but distinct innovation types and purposes.

Using this process gives you a clear, simple way of seeing the big picture and the small picture concurrently, compare timetables and resources, and make informed decisions about how to handle each of your innovation initiatives as they unfold.

Incremental vs. Breakthrough Innovation

Whether you’re starting from scratch or revamping, projecting innovation outcomes is vital if you don’t want to lose out on important opportunities. And although short vs. long-term is a high-level way of looking at timing, it’s not the only way to splice when preparing a better innovation strategy. Digging a little deeper, it’s important to shape tactics based on whether the innovations in question are “incremental” (smaller improvements or changes to existing things, and therefore exploitable) or “breakthrough” (game-changing introductions that drastically advance or alter the market, and are more exploratory). For many companies, these assessments may have start at the heart of the organization itself.

“Today, organizations desperately need to reinvent themselves completely in order to win in tomorrow’s market place,” says Ivey Business Journal’s Idris Mootee. “Reinvention means throwing away existing strategies and even best practices. Every CEO understands the pressing need for a clear competitive strategy as well as the need for strategic innovation. In fact, a CEO must understand this need, because unless companies have a clear idea about how they are going to be distinctly different and how they should differentiate themselves from the competition, they are going to get overtaken.”

An Applicable Process

Truly strategic innovation means being able to, in a sense, predict the future. If not literally, then by pairing historical patterns with creative foresight and using that knowledge to imagine new or disrupted markets. Says Mootee, “Prudent managers design and execute the competitive strategy that will enable their organizations to succeed today, while simultaneously engaging in strategic innovation efforts that will lay the groundwork to compete in the future.” Okay, true — so how do you actually do it?

One (more) thing first: don’t forget about the roles that exploitation and exploration play. In a nutshell, using organization ambidexterity requires the aforementioned categorizations plus the latter — typically, incremental innovations aren’t exploratory and vice versa. The folks over at Innovation Management Online put together a chart that lays out the process very clearly, and which most companies can easily use to map out their own innovation strategies:

Org Ambi chart

Using organizational ambidexterity won’t immediately solve your innovation woes, but it is an excellent way to get started managing them. It can help you select the right tools and processes, and in the end, help you to establish an innovation process that can bring you results again and again.