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Learning Ambidexterity in Organization Open Access

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Learning Ambidexterity in OrganizationAs organizational exploitation drives out exploration, companies must reach beyond traditional organizational learning practices to become learning organizations, learning in action as they also perform. As traditional companies tip the balance between entropy and negative entropy, they ultimately begin to focus almost exclusively on evolutionary learning and refining more of what they already know. High-Tech Optics avoided this success trap of focusing on past performance by routinely assessing and perturbing its cultural and structural inertia and continually reaffirming that performance and learning should be integrally linked objectives. Exploitation was kept from crowding out exploration by several factors, namely the company CEO and the ambidextrous organizational culture. When learning was emphasized, it was in the context of ambidextrous learning, not simply a reference to incremental learning associated with the refinement of existing products and processes. Instead, this company’s learning fell across a spectrum, from learning within a specially created structurally ambidextrous space to research projects, customer problem solving, perturbing its own processes, and helping others. This qualitative single-case study, with its nine findings and four conclusions, strongly suggests not only that it is possible for organizations to learn ambidexterity, but that such learning most likely happens in all organizations. This study discovered that High-Tech Optics naturally converged on all three kinds of ambidexterity: contextual, structural, and temporal. What might not be possible, or natural, for most organizations, however, is the sustainment of ambidexterity, learning how to make an ambidextrous culture permanent. Remarkably, High-Tech Optics, a manufacturing company, emerged as an ambidextrous organization naturally over time, but then deliberately set mechanisms, structures, and processes in place to continue these behaviors indefinitely.The main implication for practitioners is to consider an ambidextrous plan for their own organizations. As exploitation tends to drive out exploration as organizations mature, favoring what is already known over what is new, organizations should not forget their early explorative learning behaviors.

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