So how do you manage exploiting and exploring for Innovation?

Innovation Exploit and Explore to TransformSo how do businesses organise their structures to be able to simultaneously manage the needs to exploit and explore innovation?

In this post I wanted to explain my thinking through on this ability to be ‘ambidextrous’, knowing the difference of when to exploit and when to explore as essential to leveraging innovation, in all its forms and watching out for some of the traps in not managing this well.

Managing this, in all honesty, though, is hard to get the balance right but highly valuable if you do achieve it, it can transform the business. Many of our organisations struggle to manage both successfully as they tend to focus more on separation mostly in organisational structures alone as their attempt to become ambidextrous. It is far more than ‘just’ this.  Get the balance right across the organisation’s design and in its leadership management, it becomes a very powerful mechanism for accelerating performances by delivering significantly new innovation and equally sustaining and leveraging the core business you have today.

Recently I contributed a blog post over on the Hype Innovation Blog ” Balancing Exploitation & Exploration for Changing Performance” that opens up the subject but then extensively dives into three examples of Apple, GE and Google that are working in highly ambidextrous ways, pursuing exploiting and exploring in their own unique ways.

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Striving for the innovation balance: between exploring and exploiting.

Exploit and ExploreWe never seem capable of adapting as well as we should do. Adapting always seems a work-in-progress, or it is often something where we are simply making little or no progress!

We often stay ‘stuck’ in the way we do ‘things’ around here, never seemingly able to break out into something new or different.

To adapt we need to open ourselves up to learning and adjusting our organizational ‘form’ in new ways.

In business there should be a constant battle to reconfigure the assets and extend the existing capabilities. Yet often these stay ‘static’ not learning or improving.  In our innovation activities there is an even greater pressing need to build into our thinking the ability to find more dynamic capabilities. It is a constant innovator’s dilemma to think through and get right.

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Building the new dynamics into our capacity to innovate

Exploit and ExploreDo we know what are the dependencies and requirements for building and sustaining your organizations innovation success? How do you sustain innovation, is it more through the structuring of everyday work, by creating a particular set of social rules and resources that foster specific routines? Or something different?

We work really hard at maintaining these re-occurring processes, never willing to extend and push them in different and new ways. We have actually become very static in our approaches and learning, we are not learning anew. We often simply end up with incremental innovation that might just ‘nudge’ the growth needle but does little more than sustain us in the present and can be ‘contained’ in a tidy process that makes many, including the ‘bean counters,’ very happy until someone changes the game.

Then we need to think differently but this is usually far too late.. As demand is more volatile today we need to experiment, explore, learn and adjust. What becomes more important is the ‘work to be done, and how we go about tackling this and not the work done’ where we often simply ‘default too. Surprisingly Adam Smith identified this important difference in work way back in 1776.

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The separation effect required for innovation

Exploit and Explore 3I have recently been in some different discussions about the merits and balances required to manage incremental and radical innovation. Partly this is in preparation for a workshop later this month but partly from a conversation, I am having with a sizable, well-respected organization, with its head office based here in Europe.

In the conversation within the organization we were discussing the breakdown in their treatment of incremental and radical and they suggested this was being managed within an “ambidextrous structure” yet I was not convinced. I have to point out this was only a part of a broader story on the difficulties of managing conflicting innovation demands that they were having.

One key constraint in their thinking I felt was not having distinct units as they were trying to manage incremental and radical through the same process and that, for me, is a basic mistake.

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