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Suitable structures for innovation through ambidextry

The event on 07 April 2022 dealt with how both disruptive innovations and routines can coexist simultaneously within an organization.
Often people try to play innovations and routines off against each other – all managers or all employees have to be creative and innovative and the whole company is “upside down” and very good, functioning routines are replaced by something new – or everyone has to be efficient and meet the “numbers”.

With the ambidextry approach, this apparent contradiction can be resolved and both innovations and routines can be given a space. The term, which originates from Latin, first gained acceptance in medicine and means the equal use of both hands. Transferred to organizations, it becomes organizational ambidextry and means the simultaneity of routines or efficiency on the one hand and innovations or flexibility on the other.

In the best case, an organization optimizes its existing processes (exploitation) and develops new business areas (exploration) – or replaces existing processes with new ones if these are better. In Exploitation, the focus is on the core business and formal, rigid organizational structures are maintained with a management style that tends toward hierarchy and authority.

In contrast, exploration focuses on innovation and creativity and replaces old structures with agile organizational forms to find new solutions. The leadership style here tends to be visionary and aims for long-term success. In practice, there is always the entire continuum of more or less implemented ambidextry.

To implement ambidextry in an organization, there are different possibilities: through 1) temporal ambidextry, 2) contextual ambidextry, or 3) structural ambidextry. Depending on the initial situation, for example, a temporal ambidextry or a context-topic-specific ambidextry in the form of projects or also a structural ambidextry through the creation of a company-internal incubator can be helpful.

In the course of the event, the focus was primarily on structural ambidextry and there on the exploratory side. The practical example of Alfred Kärcher SE & Co KG showed how this can be implemented in the form of a corporate incubator. Promising ideas are developed into business ideas. The employees with the good ideas are supported by training, coaching and mentoring measures and are also given the necessary resources – financial, spatial and temporal. The accelerator, which builds on the incubator, serves to scale up particularly promising market-ready ideas. The goal of this structural ambidextry is, among other things, to accelerate and promote radical ideas, entrepreneurship and a startup spirit – independent of the day-to-day running of the core business.

A survey of event participants showed that the concept of ambidextry was virtually unknown. Respondents who have already dealt with the topic see it as a challenge to integrate the concept into everyday work and also to successfully manage the interfaces between the two parts, exploitation and exploration.


The event was offered by ProduktionNRW. ProduktionNRW is the competence network of mechanical engineering and production technology in North Rhine-Westphalia and is carried out by VDMA NRW. ProduktionNRW sees itself as a platform for networking, informing and marketing companies, institutions and networks among themselves and along the value chain. Significant parts of the services provided by ProduktionNRW are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).