Ambidextrous Organizations: The Power of AND

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I was lucky enough this week to return to my old stomping grounds in Boston to take a class with an amazing collection of  CEO’s (Chief Executive Officer’s), Presidents, VP’s, COO’s (Chief Operating Officer’s) and others from 26 different nations.  The focus of the class was on Leading Change and Organizational Renewal and one of the most amazing aspects of the class was how the 91 participants from a wide spectrum of industries shared similar challenges.  Every industry was being faced with changes that were disrupting their organizations and they were looking for ways to better position their companies. 

 

OK, so what does this have to do with space?  Well, as I sat in the class I thought about the challenge ahead of us with the President’s direction.  He is asking NASA to focus more on pushing the envelope in technical innovations AND extend the International Space Station.  This may seem to be an easy task, but as I listened to my classmates and the professors it reinforced my belief that it is actually a very difficult path to navigate.  The reason is that the culture that made an organization successful in one domain may prevent it from being successful in another domain.  Specifically for NASA the culture that ensures the safe return of our astronauts can hinder us from pushing the envelope and taking risks.  By necessity we have been a culture of “Failure is not an Option” but now we are being asked to pursue initiatives where “Failure is a REQUIREMENT.”  Can these two cultures coexist?  Can you have a strong risk adverse and equally strong risk seeking culture within an organization without one “assimilating” the other? 

 

The short answer is YES.  But it is a yes that takes a great deal of effort and the right leadership.  The model presented was one that has been used by many successful companies including IBM (a great read on what IBM did is “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance.”).  The general idea is that a company needs to maintain the systems, culture and organization that support its core business while also creating an organization, culture and systems that will allow it to pursue the new direction.  For JSC this would translate into an organization that ensures the safe operations of the International Space Station and a new organization and culture that will embrace the risks required to push the envelope of technology.  The trick is giving the new organization the time to incubate.  To allow it to grow up and establish a new way of doing business.  History has shown that many organizations have tried this and failed and that one of the keys to success is a strong leader that can provide the top cover.  A leader that won’t be over taken by the dominant culture in the company. 

 

So, I would like to continue exploring this idea of maintaining an ambidextrous organization.  How do you create a structure that maintains both a culture of risk taking without impacting the continued success of the current business?  Do you have a successful model that you would like to share?  Or do you have lessons learned where your company tried and failed to create a dual culture?  Or what attributes do you believe are required in the leader that has to create a new way of conducting business alongside a strong dominant culture?

 

Sharing the Vision,

Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

 

14 thoughts on “Ambidextrous Organizations: The Power of AND

  1. Steve Post author

    Steven,
    How adverse to risk do you think we Americans really are? Some of us would be offended by your comments about the primary need for safety. Weren’t your astronauts originally recruited from the ranks of military test pilots who were employed to “push the envelope”?

  2. Victor Moraes Post author

    You must not make mistakes, reduce risks, take risks even decreased. And in case of occurrence of errors must account for what’s virtues in error, because they are not always quite harmful, even if they are serious.

    I’ve tried everything, error, hit, risks. These things happen to whom much stir. Lately I have experienced the error, caused by a strong emotion. But I’m sure is of great value to learn to get rid of the errors. if you can correct the error, it is very clever. We agreed a lot, it is need of much ability to hit. But to correct the errors is a necessary skill even higher. And the correction of an error is an important exercise, because in life there is unfortunately a natural risk at all. Anyone who has missed much know more easily identify where the error can happen. More important than just getting it right is to recognize the errors, identify them, this is a way to reduce the risks. More important than just hit and identify errors to reduce the risks is the ability to reverse the error situation.

  3. Bruce Behrhorst Post author

    “…The general idea is that a company needs to maintain the systems, culture and organization that support its core business while also creating an organization, culture and systems that will allow it to pursue the new direction. For JSC this would translate into an organization that ensures the safe operations of the International Space Station and a new organization and culture that will embrace the risks required to push the envelope of technology. The trick is giving the new organization the time to incubate. To allow it to grow up and establish a new way of doing business.”

    Does “ambidextrous organization” mean which path toward funding development an organization goes along the path of least resistance politically? ‘Cause it seems achievement and inspiration only involves LEO technical achievements in space and less to do with beyond LEO space operations with only chemical non-nuclear propulsion and power systems. Curious to know why NASA drops launch systems and embraces others?

    What are the political rationals?

    Since it’s obvious it has nothing to do with funds or technical means for Human Space Flight(HSF)achivement.

  4. Viktor Post author

    You must not make mistakes, reduce risks, take risks even decreased. And in case of occurrence of errors must account for what’s virtues in error, because they are not always quite harmful, even if they are serious.

    I’ve tried everything, error, hit, risks. These things happen to whom much stir. Lately I have experienced the error, caused by a strong emotion. But I’m sure is of great value to learn to get rid of the errors. if you can correct the error, it is very clever. We agreed a lot, it is need of much ability to hit. But to correct the errors is a necessary skill even higher. And the correction of an error is an important exercise, because in life there is unfortunately a natural risk at all. Anyone who has missed much know more easily identify where the error can happen. More important than just getting it right is to recognize the errors, identify them, this is a way to reduce the risks. More important than just hit and identify errors to reduce the risks is the ability to reverse the error situation.
    http://www.autocompleteme.de

  5. brent williams Post author

    Drilling for oil has been a very important part of life for modern man over the last century. Drilling for Magma into the earth can be the next centuries means to extract materials, ease the pressure of extreme volcanoes of catastrophic nature, and create lesser mountains near the large volcanos. This will control the pressure of the volcanos and will allow us to form new mountains over time with a control leak. Thats my opinion. I welcome yours.

  6. Brent Williams Post author

    Drilling for magna can not only release pressure but also can be used to make stones of design with molds. Why cut granite for countertops when you can mold them with hot magma! Good luck and always carefully moving forward!

  7. guest Post author

    Speaking of technical innovation, what do you think about the common thread between SSSS, CRAY computer, quantum computer,Menwood Hill, NASA, Global War Security and 66 Billion people targeted?

  8. guest Post author

    very inspiring, we all have to embrace change while still maintaining our core values to set us aside from the competition. loved the article.

    Thanks
    Tony

  9. Vijeth Post author

    yes, its designs create distinct units that have their own unique processes, structures and cultures that are specifically intended to support early-stage innovation. These units, often comprised of one or more innovation teams, reside within the larger parent organization but have been set up to support the unique approaches, activities and behaviors required when launching a new business.

    Executive leadership can use the ambidextrous organizational model to create segregated business units for exploring and developing breakthrough innovations (products, services and processes) while at the same time keeping existing business units in tact. Project teams within the new venture are encouraged to form their own processes, structures and cultures but they are still connected to the rest of the organization through executive sponsors who ensure that no organizational conflicts or competition for resources threaten the viability of the venture.

    Vijeth Kumar
    Website:

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