1 LEARNING ORGANISATION CHAPTER – 1 THE FIVE DISCIPLINES INTRODUCTION In 1990 in a breakthrough study of learning organizations, Senge pointed out

a simple set of dynamics that we tend to forget – that as humans we want to learn, and we want to understand why things are the way they are – in a more whole way. Much of our knowledge has been fragmented by the assumptions and structures of formal education (split into disciplines and departments with their own jargon), its teachers, and later, supervisors and leaders of organizations. If we could find a way of connecting the fragmented ways we experience life and work into more of a holistic story, then the natural richness and complexity of life shows up – allowing a more considered approach to issues that are interdependent and nested within systems. We’d have a better chance o f deeply satisfying our natural curiosity about how things work while also enabling better solutions for solving problems. Senge’s framework invokes a sense of synergy even when seeing the names of the disciplines: shared vision, mental models, systems thinking, personal mastery, and team learning. We can sense how they reinforce each other. Collectively, these disciplines map out the rich and comprehensive terrain of leadership and coaching. And the disciplines are versatile – each a window or doorway to enter into a larger room that houses the others. A leader or coach can explore any of the five disciplines first. Each discipline is whole unto itself and part of a more complex and larger whole. A leader’s immediate needs determine the relevant discipline to engage first, with others being introduced at an appropriate time. Coaching this way helps expand leaders’ awareness of their learning capacities as well as what provides learning organizations with a competitive edge in the marketplace. By experiencing the personal synergies of the five disciplines, leaders see the organizational implications of synergies operating at a systems level with a multiplier effect. That insight is a motivational driver for pursuing a strategic cultural transformation process. It also keeps our comprehensive vision as coaches engaged so that we leverage the most learning for our clients’ benefit as well as for the benefit of their organizations. Our value-added, then, takes form in those personal changes in leaders that result in organizational changes and outcomes. LEADING FOR A LEARNING ORGANIZATION: THE FIVE DISCIPLINES From the authority vested in their roles, leaders are instrumental in facilitating the rise of a learning organization. A fundamental shift in their own assumptions and behaviors may be needed. What follows are the five disciplines as they relate to helping leaders in developing learning organizations. 1. Leaders cultivate a shared vision among people throughout the organization, as well as with stakeholders. 2. Leaders surface and challenge mental models which hinder open communication and learning in themselves and others. 3. Leaders foster practices, processes, and relationships that make systems thinking a normal approach to innovation and problem solving. 4. Leaders promote the intrinsic and extrinsic benefits of personal mastery, recognizing areas of needed growth, and being disciplined about those improvements. 5. Leaders ensure an atmosphere where people feel safe to express their ideas and feedback across functions and levels, to harness the deeper synergy from team learning.

Learning Organisation

On another level. and supports development of a learning organization.’ Selling: ‘The leader attempts to enroll people in the vision. technology. but how enthusiastically they will accept it. cohesion. and direction company-wide? What are the processes and practices that could help create community and a sense of what’s important? How can regular. After the vision is in place it needs to be maintained in the consciousness of people and passed along to new hires. we learn about others and ourselves through how well we integrate what we say with what we do (“walk the talk”). Behind anyone’s resistance we are likely to find two or more mental models in conflict. The results are used to refine and redesign the vision…What excites you about this vision and what doesn’t?’ Consulting: ‘This is a preferred stage for a boss who recognizes that he or she cannot possibly have all the answers – and who wants to make the vision stronger by inviting the organization to be the boss’s consultant…. 1994: 315-322). Processes. yet in pressing so hard for that we may lose focus and attentiveness to what others are saying. flow in a common direction. In articulating a vision. or reconsider your vision for your career here. What informal actions and formal policies draw forth and express the shared vision in such a way that people feel a sense of partnership. then those assumptions limit our ability to read the environment accurately. resistance is normal. takes patience. In the process of surfacing mental models. The discipline of mental models involves discerning the actual data that supports (or doesn’t) the many generalizations we hold about the world. enlisting as much commitment as possible…We have the best answer. Taking time to hear what others are saying. or organization. It’s our vision. If our mental models are not based on real data.What vision do members recommend that we adopt?’ And Co-Creating: ‘It’s an important day in everyone’s life when they begin to work for what they want to build rather than to please a boss…Let’s create the future we individually and collectively want’” (Senge. Working on the discipline of mental models requires openness and honesty with ourselves and with others. open and honest feedback become a valued contribution to building shared meaning and helping people to grow? MENTAL MODELS Our mental models determine not only how we make sense of the world. Rhetoric that matches reality grows faith between leaders and staff. “Telling: ‘this is the vision of what the organization is going to look like two years from now…We’ve got to do this. let’s see if we can get you to buy in. the more we can allow our mental models to be reshaped by the power of the information we take in. and what aspects of it matter to them. the words are experienced as hypocritical. The more we maintain openness. not just to find out whether the members support the vision. stay aware of our common vision. Be excited about it. The ways leaders deal with that resistance will model an important message to the organization. job functions. generate a sense of safety with others for saying whatever needs to be said. The principle of shared vision leverages the most productive usage of capital. leaders can proceed in various ways. system-wide problem solving. and respect for the person. When there is a disconnect. instead of making judgments and taking actions based on partial information.2 SHARED VISION Shared vision is a discipline for bringing into alignment the vision and efforts of people organization-wide. and so forth. To develop better skills in this regard we need to practice the art of listening and inquiring.’ Testing: ‘The leader lays out the vision for testing. erodes. The careful deconstruction of those mental models (and their assumptions) will allow Learning Organisation . We want others to know what we think and feel. and human capital since resources are coordinated toward the same ends. but how we take action.

To surface our assumptions about how we think and behave around working together.      “We do x that way because …” “What are your reasons for doing it that way?” “What works and doesn’t work about doing it that way?” “Can you imagine doing it in some completely different manner – and what value might that add?” “What is going on upstream (policies. it allows the interdependent whole to be appreciated.3 dialogue and learning to continue. etc? Does the relationship express “power with” or “power over”? With whom is and should important information be shared? When should it be shared? Whose ideas are drawn upon for considering options and making decisions? At what point and how often are people outside of management involved directly in important processes and decisions? Who is and should be involved in processes for hiring? What formal and informal processes are used to facilitate feedback and evaluation? Are those processes used for mutual accountability. alignment and attunement between people. Using feedback loops. links. and advancement? Who is involved in determining rewards and recognition? Whose ideas. systems. fellow associates. customer service. growth. things. systems. practices and outcomes downstream?” “How will one shift in how we work in (or design) this systems help other systems to operate more effectively and intelligently?” “How can we look for synergies with other systems?”    Look at places where there may be a duplication of efforts. and influence affect how professional development dollars are budgeted?       SYSTEMS THINKING Systems thinking is a way of seeing the connections. attitudes and perceptions. how decisions are made. or relationships between things. we can ask these kinds of questions:  Is the relationship between leaders and staff one of “superiors and subordinates. process flow. habits. product quality. This discipline draws on perceptions and experiences of people from different levels and functions in the organization. reinforcing loops. providing diverse perspectives for improving the quality of systems thinking. etc. To play with employing systems thinking. It is a process for understanding the interrelationships among key components of a system. sales. such as: hierarchical relations. and balancing mechanisms helps to map out systems and the outcomes desired. practices.) that affects how and why we are doing things this way?” “What does doing something this way affect people and stakeholders. and hundreds of other factors. but one that leads to a deeper understanding. colleagues. traditions. opinions. just in time delivery. Notice how parts of a system may not be seen broadly enough – overlooking how it could benefit or impact another system. cash flow. you can start conversations around openers like.” partners. research and development. Where might there be waste and how could awareness of that waste be an opportunity for saving human and financial resources? You might begin to see links Learning Organisation . production. delivery. It is a slower process. Instead of seeing parts and pieces of how things happen.

what they Learning Organisation . the leader could ask the following questions of a direct report:    How do you want to grow your value to the organization over the next year? How do you want to grow and what do you want to accomplish over the next few years? What expertise and passion do you have that can help you make the kinds of contributions that would be meaningful to you and others? What do you need from the organization to help you grow? What can you do to help the team. regained stability. and 2) continually learning how to assess current reality in relation to progressing toward that vision. TEAM LEARNING When team learning exists. Applying personal mastery in a holistic way means approaching one’s life as a creative work.4 between what were thought previously to be unrelated variables. In deeper dialogue.” This results from mastering the underlying principles that bring about the results we desire. generative thinking. PERSONAL MASTERY When we experience personal mastery. but rather to absorb the chemistry of others’ thoughts and perceptions. other departments. people learn to ask questions that help learning instead of individuals making expert points. how they really feel. there is a flow of information. our department. Systems thinking help to uncover the living connections between things large and small. and innovative problem solving. It involves an on-going dual process of 1) clarifying what’s important (and envisioning it vividly). For example. identifying and discussing behaviors that are personally and professionally important and vital to the success of the team. so I know to come to talk to you and help? How do you like to get feedback? How would you be most comfortable giving me feedback?       Other exercises include comparing people’s individual visions with the vision of the company. what emerges is recognition of underlying structures to a complex situation – and that often shows up in the form of archetypes. processes. living from a creative and generative viewpoint. and doing the work with little conscious effort. Mapping and analyzing at the systems level allow a careful tracking of factors affecting input. output and outcomes that might otherwise have remained invisible or misunderstood. and behaviors need to grow in order to approach the vision. or differently? What early warning signals should I look out for ahead of time. self regulation. There is an awareness of the richness that emerges when people feel safe to say what they really think. practices. A tool leaders can use as a means of stimulating personal mastery awareness is a performance appraisal that takes place as an interactive dialogue. It feels natural. a balancing of forces. and generative adaptations. Observing at a systems level will enable selfcorrections. as your supervisor. to support your efforts? What do you want me to do less of. and the organization to grow in service to our stakeholders? What can I do. After a while. educate all members on how the financials/budgets are determined and what the numbers mean as they relate to meeting the organization’s mission. we see what steps. Through that creative tension. Conversations are focused on topics or issues without the need for outcomes. there is a sense of effortless “flow. feedback freely given and eagerly accepted and valued. more of. and if the organization is committed to an educated and informed organizational citizenry.

Ahmed heard what was being said and on one level understood these values. and nervous about his opportunity to move up into the top ranks of leadership. It involves designing exercises that facilitate the skills of dialogue. he was reeling from some direct feedback he had received from a trusted supervisor alerting him to his staff’s negative reactions to his autocratic management style. He related his beliefs that a manager’s role was to be authoritative and directive and subordinates were to follow directions and generally show deference and respect to the manager. For example. He determined that he would have to craft an explanation that put his accomplishments within the context of his staffing limitations and the stresses that putting into motion. Senge believes this is the most difficult discipline and takes the longest to develop. His supervisor wanted him to be aware of the significance of this situation and how it represented behavior that conflicted with the company’s core values. APPLYING THE DISCIPLINES: A CLIENT’S STORY A mid-level manager. active listening. Ahmed expressed that he would like to stay with and move up in his present company. and delivery. He. Professionally. asking “In this meeting. People learn how to inquire genuinely. Ahmed wondered whether or not his management style was a good fit for this company. He resented the experience of being micro-managed and it undermined his ability to fully contribute value to the team and company. They move the whole frame of reference and thinking from insiders and outsiders and a zero sum game to “we”. as he developed a unique niche project that was very entrepreneurial and unconventional. what went well. and advocate clearly with balance and data. not well understood. Hierarchy and information sharing on a need to know basis governed his method with his team. Because of his relative isolation from the firm’s partners. he had felt undervalued. Initially. listening skills. have fun. Internal cooperation and collaboration. was clear of its value to the company and persevered. ask open-ended questions like: “What should the role of leadership be in our team?” and see what surfaces. with care. Profits were significant as a direct result of his project development. but thought the writing was on the wall and he had to prepare to move on if worse came to worse. and what could we have improved upon?” Becoming comfortable with feedback builds trust. management. within a context of external competition. and making observations. Ahmed had carved out a unique niche for business development within his company that he believed was initially not appreciated nor particularly understood in terms of its potential. He was ready. however. yet they were contrary to those of his old firm where he was well regarded for his autocratic management style. There was a strained relationship between him and his staff that he attributed to troublemakers and malcontents. Over the previous year. “Who should facilitate the meetings?” “What decision making processes build solidarity and develop capacity?” Another approach is to conduct a debrief at the end of a meeting. It is on a qualitatively deeper level than simple team work or working in teams. work hard. Additionally. and creatively produce. Ahmed had become anxious over the partners’ high expectations while at the same time not supplying him with adequate staffing. came to me for assistance in preparing for an upcoming performance review in one of the nation’s top management consulting firms. As I asked him more questions about the kinds of supervisors that he flourished under and had a hard time with. Ahmed. in short. he recounted with a dismissive tone a previous boss who had not given him enough autonomy and consequently felt that he was not being trusted. care.5 really want for themselves and the organization. Subordinates were challenged in meetings and publicly corrected or strongly critiqued if they were not performing in the way and at the level Ahmed deemed appropriate. I had him tell me his developmental story as a professional. Learning Organisation . and integrity in how people talk with one another. to begin preparing to leave the company and market himself elsewhere. He felt a bit set up and began to prepare for his defense. It is getting to know how to create a space where people are able to relax. being vindicated once the numbers rolled in.

ASSESSING AHMED’S SITUATION    What do you see as the core issues to work on with Ahmed? What data and interpersonal relationships seem to be the key ones? How might each of the five disciplines be relevant for understanding the dynamics of his situation and point Ahmed toward constructive responses? What are Ahmed’s ripe areas for development? What kinds of conversations and in depth dialogue would be useful to serve this client’s needs? What are your ideas for designing an effective approach for working with this client? Do any of your ideas seem to fall outside Senge’s five disciplines?     CONCLUSION As coaches. coaches can easily integrate complementary materials from other coaching models and frameworks. THE 5 LEADERSHIP LEARNING DISCIPLINES IN BRIEF ARE: Shared Vision. 'Concept-shifting’ and ‘Values Alignment’ to create a shared vision. and exercises. coherent structure and a wealth of material for coaching leaders in five disciplines that build a learning organization. SUMMARY The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. unleash people’s aspirations and hopes and unearth reservations and resistances. edited by Peter Senge provides a simple. lose credit. coaches identify the relevant discipline and eventually explore all five disciplines from that point of entry. forge common meaning/focus and mutually agree what the learning targets. Leaders learn to use tools such as ‘Positive Visioning’. and the promotional potential that would flow from that credit. and strategies to leaders. Learning Organisation . these disciplines flow through the leader to the organization’s members. if that did not seem possible. one of the responsibilities we have is to support the work of leaders in building learning organizations. Using Senge’s five disciplines as a framework for development.6 though. he wanted to begin to assertively look elsewhere for high-level opportunities. and worried that other department leaders with strong sponsors were scheming to take over his clients and excluding him. he lacked a sponsor with solid information about his value. surfacing vital data for the coaching and leadership development process. One discipline naturally opens to others and the coherence of the process shows up through the obvious interdependence of the disciplines. Or. The key vision question is ‘What do we want to create together?’ Taking time early in the change process to have the conversations needed to shape a truly shared vision is crucial to build common understandings and commitments. He didn’t want to lose control. Attending to issues leaders finds most pressing. In addition to Fieldbook information. tools. but also for a longer term strategy for moving up to partner in the firm in the next three years. coaches help ensure the transferring of valuable concepts. This is the legacy of leaders who commit to integrating five learning organization disciplines into their workplaces. Outcomes that once were generated by charismatic or autocratic leaders alone are now translated into an organizational structure and processes that reproduce and sustain a vital and focused creative energy. taking root and embedding in the culture. Over time. with diligence and persistence. tools. Each of the five disciplines is like a strategically located window that peers outward and inward. He longed for reinforcement and appreciation. Ahmed asked for my assistance in not only getting through the performance review in a strong position. improvement strategies and challenge-goals should be to get there.

skillful discussions with their teams and each other. It is a framework for seeing inter-relationships that underlie complex situations and interactions rather than simplistic (and mostly inaccurate) linear cause-effect chains. Leaders learn to use tools like the 'ActionLearning Cycle' and 'Dialogue' to develop critical reflection skills and conduct more robust.beliefs. Teams develop reflection. influences. Learning Organisation . events. challenging or clarifying assumptions and encouraging people to reframe is essential. Team Learning. knowledge and skills with each other about how to do things better. One key to change success is in surfacing deep-seated mental models . more complete awareness of the interconnections behind changing any system. Personal Mastery. Leaders learn to use tools like 'Perceptual Positions' and 'Reframing' to enhance the quality of interaction and relationship in and outside their teams. congruent and principled. leverage points and intended/unintended consequences of change plans and programs and leads to deeper. insights. Leaders learn to use tools like the 'Ladder of Inference' and 'Reflective Inquiry' to practice making their mental models clearer for each other and challenging each others' assumptions in order to build shared understanding. Systems Thinking. Leaders learn to use 'Systems Thinking Maps' and 'Archetypes' to map and analyse situations. It enables teams to unravel the often hidden subtleties. It is centrally to do with ‘self-awareness’ – how much we know about ourselves and the impact our behaviour has on others. to be willing to have our own beliefs and values challenged and to ensure our change interactions and behaviours are authentic. Personal mastery is the human face of change – to manage change relationships sensitively. This happens when teams start ‘thinking together’ – sharing their experience. values. mind-sets and assumptions that determine the way people think and act. problems and possible causes/courses of action to find better (and often not obvious) change options/solutions. inquiry and discussion skills to conduct more skillful change conversations with each other which form the basis for creating a shared vision of change and deciding on common commitments to action. It’s also about teams developing the discipline to use the action learning cycle rigorously in change-work.7 Mental Models. Getting in touch with the thinking going on about change in your workplace.

organisational ambidexterity has embraced an extremely broad spectrum of concepts from many other research streams and now includes both: 1. sustain stability through replication and optimization. in order to exploit the respective strengths while avoiding the related weaknesses. As a result. The concept of organisational ambidexterity refers to the organisational structures that help to simultaneously deal with contradictory elements. thus. has been interested in understanding how organisations deal with contrasting and conflicting goals – reconciling diverging tensions within organisational and inter-organisational domains. Though some authors argue that these two approaches have to be kept separate others see not only a convergent process in act. and diversity and experimentation. Both types of activities are essential for organisational prosperity. Exploration involves search. Exploitation can be defined as refinement. and entrepreneurial action – operate with amplified frequency. an essential lens for interpreting various behaviours and outcomes within and across organisations. scholars focused on a narrow aspect of this framework to underscore the merits of new knowledge development versus refinement of existing knowledge. where destabilizing forces – such as technical innovation. but entail inherent contradictions that need to be managed. The result of this expansion is that the dichotomy between exploration and exploitation constitutes one of the main topics analyzed by another theoretical framework that. generate innovations in order to meet or create future demands.8 CHAPTER 3 CONTINUOUS INNOVATION: TOWARDS A PARADOXICAL. variation. ensure steady performances. and. 2. selection. There is a fundamental distinction between exploration and exploitation. historically. on the one hand. production. efficiency. The growth of competitive pressure over markets forces organisations to be excellent not only in the accomplishment of the needs of today’s customers but also in the anticipation of tomorrow’s requests. but also the possibility to combine the different approaches. Over time. experimentation. choice. risk-taking. Moreover. Initially. implementation and execution. Paradox studies offer a way to cope with contradictory yet interrelated elements that exist Learning Organisation . evidence indicates that many firms inhabit increasingly dynamic environments. globalised competition. In addition. flexibility. One common point on which all authors seem to agree is the necessity to embrace a paradoxical thinking in order to solve the dilemmas that most organisations are tackling – especially the exploration-exploitation one. discovery and innovation. on the other. The latest approaches highlighting the necessity to embrace the dichotomous solutions through integration processes. however. at the same time. play. the exploration-exploitation framework has been applied quite broadly to portray a wide range of phenomena that encompass various manifestations of specialization and experience. the continuous combination of exploratory and exploitatory activities is increasingly becoming a source of sustainable competitive advantage. and. AMBIDEXTROUS COMBINATION OF EXPLORATION AND EXPLOITATION INTRODUCTION. With these premises as a starting point. organisations in all industries have to continuously reconfigure their structures and processes. The initial approaches arguing the necessity of mutually exclusive solutions to support either one or the other contradictory choices.

A central premise of March (1991) concerns the inherent dichotomy between exploration and exploitation. Born in the field of product development. If further research is necessary to clarify these boundaries. Desirable organisational outcomes. CI is positioned at the intersection of the three aforementioned theoretical lenses (Figure). a global network set up in 2000 to bring together researchers and industrialists working in the field of continuous innovation (CI). The basic idea is to use a dynamic equilibrium model – assuming constant motion across opposing forces with a continuous pull in opposing directions. All of which emphasise the tensions produced by a set of antecedents of exploratory rather than exploitatory behaviours. and evolutionary process. As depicted in Figure 2(a). 2. Under performance targets to be accomplished. Resource-allocation constraints. CINet members study the innovation processes through which the ongoing interaction between exploration and exploitation fosters a synergistic combination of operational effectiveness and strategic flexibility – allowing firms to achieve superior performance. which is not only highly overlapped. which provides a paradoxical perspective to analyse the tensions characterizing the dichotomous nature of exploration and exploitation. CI has maintained a focus on the ambidextrous combination of exploration and exploitation through a continuous cross-disciplinary. EXPLORATION-EXPLOITATION FRAMEWORK.9 simultaneously and persist over time. Learning Organisation . however. the current interrelatedness is so intense that the isolation of the contributions provided by each stream to the CI literature is not a simple operation. Organisational inertia. the combined effect of these forces tends to open up the gap between exploration and exploitation axes to the point where they becomes diametrically opposed – leaving no choice but to move in one direction or the other [Figure 2(b)]. CI has rapidly embraced a broader perspective that has spanned organisational boundaries to reach the topic of innovation management. crossfunctional. The final result of this operation is the creation of a space between exploration and exploitation axes in Figure 2(a). but also with boundaries that tend to remain blurred. organisations strive more or less intentionally toward a balance between exploratory and exploitatory activities – focusing on reducing the natural divergence toward which the system drifts without control [Figure 2(b)]. Starting from these considerations. The opposing nature of these activities derives from several stylized facts about: 1. 3. In fact. These researchers are part of the Continuous Innovation Network (CINet). an increasing number of researchers is progressively focusing on this dynamic process through which it is possible to combine exploratory and exploitatory activities – adopting a comprehensive perspective routed into the innovation management literature. In doing this.

From this viewpoint. alignment and adaptability. Environmental. exploitation and organisational performance is still not straightforward. more empirical research is needed to reveal the multifaceted performance implications of exploration and exploitation. Other researchers refer to the multiple structures that a firm has to adopt in order to cope with the contradictory activities it faces. In this case the literature is looking for the best conceptualization. embedded in organisational design studies. Starting from this initial definition. but also on the specific approach adopted to balance exploration and exploitation. An overall examination reveals that the literature has mostly concentrated on the forces that drive organisations toward imbalance between the two activities. the debate on ambidexterity has progressively extended its roots in other theoretical streams. Organisational. but also the importance of intentionality in managing this balance. These competing activities have varied from achieving both search and stability. 3. ambidextrous organisations succeed in managing conflicting demands. and there are three challenges that call for further research. In the anthropological literature. flexibility and efficiency. The first is related to the generalizability of the findings. and depend not only on the interplay of organisational and environmental contingencies. used to simultaneously reconcile contradictory and divergent activities. ambidexterity describes the individuals’ power of using both ‘hands’ alike. exploratory knowledge sharing and exploitative knowledge sharing and pro-profit and pro-growth strategies. The main antecedents of these two concepts can however be underlined at three different levels: 1. However. The extensive literature analysis emphasizes that what all the different viewpoints have in common is that organisational ambidexterity should be conceptualized as a dynamic. The general idea is that both exploration and exploitation have the potential to enhance organisational performance. the concept of ambidexterity has been extensively used to broadly refer to an organisation’s ability to perform differing and often competing. incremental and discontinuous innovations. According to Duncan. exploitative and explorative learning. search scope and depth. At these levels very few factors have empirically showed the production of consistent effects on exploration rather than exploitation. Research also offers little insights into the tendencies to balance the conflicting pressures for these exploration and exploitation. 2. Managerial. the likelihood and the nature of such gains vary across activities. Learning Organisation . ORGANISATIONAL AMBIDEXTERITY. the relationship between exploration. The second is associated with the debates that the literature presents regarding not only the best model to balance exploration and exploitation. Even if scholars are studying this topic. a final concern is whether or not organisations actually benefit from overcoming the exploration-exploitation dichotomy. Starting from this contribution. and context in which to study exploration and exploitation.10 Empirical research has produced limited or mixed evidence on the causes of exploration and exploitation. Operationalization. As a matter of fact. strategic activities at the same time. A fundamental conjecture in the exploration-exploitation literature concerns the impact of these activities on organisational performance. and why some organisations tend to pursue exploration while others opt for exploitation. The theoretical framework of exploration and exploitation is still in its developmental phase.

anecdotal or single case studies – inhibiting more holistic empirical insights. when organisations face opposing activities that simultaneously push in opposing directions. but truly excelling at both the diverging pressures. As a matter of fact. These approaches achieve an ambidextrous state stressing the usage of structure and strategy in order to enable differentiation among organisational units. there is no empirical evidence on either the presence of this convergence or the effectiveness of the combination of the approaches to ambidexterity: most research offers conceptual. Thus. pure integration approaches. there is little agreement on the means by which organisations perform the balance. only a small proportion of the studies on ambidexterity use multiple data sources and multiple respondents – exposing the findings to the issues related to the presence of common method variance. but also a level of decision interrelatedness that is hardly achievable without having first safeguarded the development of a cognitive maturity within each unit of the system. Given sharply increasing coordination costs. Second. organisation. Try to link a stated ambidextrous status to the firm’s performance. 3. Only few qualitative papers analyse the organisational mechanisms at the basis of the ambidexterity construct. From this perspective. group. many authors suggest combining the approaches – in an attempt to avoid the respective weaknesses. Pure differentiation approaches provide different forms of separation that are likely to result in sharp interfaces. Moreover. Moreover. However. diffuse throughout the system (e. On the other side there are the integration approaches to ambidexterity. 2. which – mostly rooted in organisational learning and innovation management literature streams – utilize behavioral. the majority of the papers: 1. even if literature tends to be split between the aforementioned approaches. If on the one hand. As it has been already shown for exploration and exploitation. there is currently somewhat a consensus about the merits of this balancing process.11 There are two other interesting elements emerging from the analysis. or industry) and which are often unrealistic. not only assume extremely flexible behaviours. and a lack of common orientation. Segregated efforts target either one or the other dichotomous activities. from this perspective literature is divided between two approaches. ambiguous priorities. on the other. Different units (organisational differentiation). Focus on the firm as the unit of analysis. Different instances of the same unit (temporal and domain differentiation). First. Make use of survey research strategies. Finally. pure differentiation and integration approaches are mostly ineffective in providing an ambidextrous capability. This one does not denote a mediocre split or bland comprise. which differ in terms of their emphases on differentiation rather than integration in tackling the diverging alternatives. on the other side. more or less intentionally they try to reconcile the related conflicting pressures through a balancing process.. there Learning Organisation .g. On one side there are the differentiation approaches to ambidexterity – the historical approaches proposed by academics to cope with the diverging activities. the differentiation solutions raise fundamental concerns about the possibility to achieve an efficient integration among 1. 2. Both the differentiation and integration approaches to ambidexterity have weaknesses. cognitive and social means to integrate the diverging activities. recent studies underline the extreme difficulty in determining and following the ongoing mix of differentiation and integration approaches that best fit the peculiar setting in which the organisation aims to achieve ambidexterity.

Considering the issues associated to both differentiation as well as integration approaches. where a lack of conceptual clarity and theoretical coherence is still registered in most of the literature. if on one hand serve as a trigger for change. and sustainable management strategies. and leadership. Even if immersed in a pre-paradigmatic phase. Such elements seem logical when considered in isolation. but also that – if adequately harnessed – these tensions can be beneficial and powerful because the juxtaposition of coexisting opposites intensifies experiences of tension. inconsistent. The latest and most promising applications. The external boundary integrates the overall system and highlights synergies. PARADOXICAL THINKING. passively or proactively avoiding continuous debates on its nature that might spark vicious cycles. organisation becomes trapped within a set of reinforcing cycles that. This last one tends toward homogeneity – finding comfort as it develops mindsets and routines supporting one activity. and seeking more fluid. however. as well as their support in achieving and maintaining an ambidextrous. communication and rhetoric. For example. In other words. on the other hand perpetuate and exacerbate the tensions between the dichotomous alternatives – making both their management. As a result. challenging actors’ cognitive limits.12 are other factors that influence the propensity of a system and/or one of its units to think and act ambidextrously. Yet this external boundary also binds and juxtaposes opposing elements and amplifies their paradoxical nature – creating a dynamic relationship between dualities and ensuring their persistence over time. Learning to live with the paradox. means of managing a paradox: • Acceptance. often interrelated. spurring nested tensions throughout the organisation. Given the pre-paradigmatic stage of paradox theories. researchers have proposed the following encompassing one: a paradox is a set of contradictory yet interrelated elements that exist simultaneously and persist over time. First. or dualities that are oppositional to one another yet are also synergistic and interrelated within a larger system. the context in which ambidexterity is searched or the leadership style of organisation management. Paradox thinking assumes that tensions not only persist within complex and dynamic systems (like organisation). managing a paradox means capturing its enlightening potential. The distinguishing characteristics of paradox are illustrated by the Taoist symbol of yin yang. Discussion of paradox from the late 1980s has motivated research in such domains as change. identity. and escalating its effort in its preferred mode to the neglect of the other. as well as the potential re-alignment choices in the relative differentiation and/or integration approaches more difficult. and even absurd when juxtaposed. paradox thinking proposes a provocative and powerful lens through which to analyse the exploration-exploitation dilemma. Learning Organisation . reinforced by formal logic that encourages either/or thinking and accentuates differences. Further research is needed to understand the different factors moderating the effectiveness of differentiation and integration approaches. demanding creative sense making. reflexive. Boundaries separating these elements highlight their distinctions. The underlying idea beyond paradox management is that exploration and exploitation – as well as the other forces tackled by ambidextrous organisations – represents overarching demands. there are many definitions available on this concept in the literature. Researchers suggest two. seem to be the ones in both the exploration-exploitation as well as organisational ambidexterity domains. researchers suggest to favour an alternative conceptualization where the concurrent balance of the contradictory activities is achieved and maintained through paradoxical thinking. Recently. paradox denotes elements. but irrational.

but also generate further latent tensions within the organisational processes. researchers propose the holistic model depicted in Figure 3.13 • Resolution. The latter stem from such factors as both cognitive and behavioral forces for consistency. Synthesis. it is necessary to test the effectiveness of the dynamic model developed by Smith and Lewis (2011) in describing the processes that are applied by organisations to cope with their paradoxical activities. The tensions emanating through the act of strategizing persist entangled in the organisational processes because of the complex and adaptive nature of organisational systems. constructing boundaries that foster distinctions and dichotomies. Together. It is important to note that – given the interrelatedness of most organisational tensions – the persistence of conflicting forces and purposeful. The metaphor of dynamic equilibrium is the model’s key feature. Spatial separation. emotional anxiety and defensiveness. discussing the related tensions. and there are three main challenges that call for further research. According to the model. with the acceptance of the paradox (fostered by both the individual and the organisational factors depicted in Figure 3). they may remain latent until environmental factors – namely plurality. The former are connected first. and integrates management strategies of acceptance and resolution. these individual and organisational forces fuel a negative reinforcing cycle that not only forces the focus on a single alternative. organisations emerge as leaders respond to foundational questions. or meta-communicating about tensions to identify both/and possibilities. there is not a unique idea regarding resolution strategies. Facing the paradox. The theoretical framework of paradox thinking is still in its developmental phase. 2. 3. then. and. With these debates in mind. First. change and scarcity – or an individual paradoxical cognition accentuate the oppositional and relational nature of dualities. Once rendered salient. Learning Organisation . cyclical responses over time allows the continued emergence of tensions. as well as organisational inertial forces. which – once rendered salient – will require further responses. paradoxical tensions spur responses that – according to paradox studies – can be both positive and negative. Temporal separation. If literature agrees on acceptance means. Even as tensions persist. For example according to one researcher: 1. and finding a means of meeting competing demands or considering the diverging ideas simultaneously. its resolution through an opportune mixture of the aforementioned differentiation and integration approaches. Others explore cognitive shifts that reframe the relationship between polarized elements – clarifying mixed messages that invoke contradiction. which describes both the inherent and socially constructed features of organisational tensions.

2. Consider more cyclical dynamics. their management. action research. The studies that are currently applying the paradox concepts demonstrate the value of alternative methodological tools – such as case studies. Enable contextual richness.14 Second. Finally. and their impact. According to Smith and Lewis. if the dominant utilizations of paradox focus on the underlying tensions as dualities between two activities. systems approaches. Investigate tensions. Paradox studies encourage methodological strategies that can: 1. and agent-based models – for enabling more nuanced insights. Learning Organisation . the relative theories should also consider trialectics or pluralistic tensions in order to completely understand paradox phenomena. 3. the development of a paradox theory is strictly related to the development of alternative methodologies able to explore paradoxical tensions. there are a series of methodological issues to be faced.

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