Are we too obsessed with idea generation?

lamp bulb tulipsRecently I was notified of a new project called Ideapod, which is branding itself as a social network for ideas.  The aim is that people will share their ideas, via a short and pithy 1,000 character limited post, albeit one that can be embellished with photos, videos and the like.

Now I’m all for sharing ideas, and indeed I often use the William Gibson quote about the future already existing, it’s just unevenly distributed.  So there is tremendous value in seeing what’s going on out there, and testing whether those things are any use to you in your own particular circumstances.

Indeed, that’s a big part of what this blog is all about.  I try and share the latest thinking and case studies from around the world in the hope that some of it may be relevant to you in your personal situation.

So I get that.  My concern is that we end up focusing so much on the creation, or sharing of ideas, that we then forget the vital task of actually implementing them well.

The challenge of ambidexterity

This is especially so for organizations that are torn between either exploring new ideas, or exploiting what they currently do as effectively and efficiently as possible.

If we focus too much on the exploration side of things then it’s quite possible that we’ll pay all of the costs of this ideation, but receive few of the benefits of it, as ideas become undeveloped or poorly executed.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that the flip side is ideal either, and the stories of organizations that fail to innovate are legion.  The key is to strike an appropriate balance between the two, but of course this is traditionally very difficult to achieve, despite the crucial role this plays in the success of any organization.

How to achieve that kind of ambidexterity has been frequently discussed by management thinkers over the years.  John Kotter for instance believes you can achieve this by asking employees to take on dual roles.  Others, such as Vijay Govindarajan believe that you need a dedicated innovation team.

Julian Birkinshaw suggests that ambidexterity itself needs dividing into two strands.  Structural ambidexterity explores the creation of separate organizations for different activities, whilst contextual ambidexterity is more Kotter like and sees individuals choosing to work on either side depending on the context of their day.

With the financial restraints many organizations are currently operating under, it seems realistic to believe that contextual ambidexterity is more common.

Does it work though?

It probably goes without saying that it’s very hard to focus on both efficiency and exploration at the same time.  It’s hard enough to be excellent in one of them, let alone in both.  There have been numerous studies highlighting the shortening shelf life of leading companies in the modern world.  Many now stay at the top for a relatively short period of time.

A study by Manuel Hensmans found that just 28 of 215 of the biggest companies in the UK retained their status over a two decade period.  What’s more, of those 28, just three were able of undergoing a major strategic change and still maintain their lofty status.

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez suggests that to create the organizational ambidexterity requires a focus on six core pillars:

  1. Leadership and culture
  2. People and skills
  3. Structure and governance
  4. Processes and methods
  5. Systems and tools
  6. Enterprise performance management

The one lesson we can probably take from all of this is that there are no shortage of frameworks and models for how organizations could do this, yet the actual implementation remains extremely challenging.

Maybe someone in Ideapod will come up with an idea on how to achieve this optimal state.  We’ll see.  If you’d like to contribute to the Ideapod project, they’re currently running a campaign on Indiegogo.

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