Few large businesses are good at innovating the business alongside ‘business as unusual’. The nimble start-up and established corporation have two different cultures and mind-sets that drive the existing and the new. The challenge for the big corporate is that you have a past and current to maintain; the start-up has neither, just a future.
Apple is running a huge supply chain that delivers 75.5m iPhones in the first quarter of 2015. Google is running the world’s leading search engine with an average of 5.7 billion searches per day. Alongside this hugely productive supply chain, both are innovating and have created organisations where radical new products and services are created.
All organisations and individuals have a tendency to want order and control. Ambi-dextrous leadership is living with a basket of probabilities rather than a series of certainties. The leader of the ambi-dextrous business is managing a portfolio of assets, people and projects that combine flexibly to meet the work demands.
Ambi-dextrous organisations require different mind-sets. For example, people in established organisations tend to see that they have a ‘job’. A ‘job’ is something that is more or less defined and is configured as a bundle of tasks. In contrast, work at Google is more seen as an individual’s ability to contribute to the business. The job becomes a bundle of capabilities and experiences that is applied over time in lots of different ways.
A second example is what some call the shift from institutional thinking to network thinking. Institutional thinking is necessarily closed, selective and controlling. Network thinking is open, random and supportive.
Thirdly, in the ambi-dextrous world, business centres will need to get better at working with portfolios of units with different demands and requirements. Some will benefit from synergy; others want to be left to get on with a risky venture with a different form of support. Celebration of difference and diversity comes from the openness and randomness of network thinking.
Finally, the conventional approach to measuring and managing performance is not applicable. The focus is on the delivery and the outcome but much less so on the how and the actual tasks. The old measures of effort and performance are now perceived to be counter-productive for those looking to innovate.
Based on these requirements, the ambi-dextrous world can provide greater ambiguity and stress for leaders. It requires the ability to hold different business models with different mind-sets and different ways of working at any one time.
The ambi-dextrous business is agile, fast changing and flexible. It delivers both today and tomorrow. Organisations need to get on board or get left behind.