Last week I wrote about using the Three Horizon model and one of the key traits of a leader is to look forward and work back.

The future is uncertain so how do you do this?

I have referenced this book a few times How Google Works. The approach Google takes is to look ten years ahead and aims to predict what the world will be like and make sure it is aiming for this.  That is very similar to the first strategy rule in Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs

In a recent article Derek Handley predicts “I think the last 20 or something years has just been kindergarten of what technology can and will achieve. We’re going to go into a whole new realm in the next decade that’s going to transform a lot of things that we can do”

This may scare you or hopefully excites you with all the potential opportunities that it will bring.

This begs the question around how you structure your business to focus on the core and focusing on the future.  This is partly answered in a 2004 HBR article Ambedexious Organisation.  Below are some key points:

  • Ambidextrous organisations need ambidextrous senior teams and managers-executives who have the ability to understand and be sensitive to the needs of very different kinds of businesses. Combining the attributes of rigorous cost cutters and free-thinking entrepreneurs while maintaining the objectivity required to make difficult trade-offs,
  • Company’s senior team must be committed to operating ambidextrously even if its members aren’t ambidextrous themselves. Resistance at the top levels of an organisation can’t be tolerated.
  • That a clear and compelling vision, relentlessly communicated by a company’s senior team, is crucial in building ambidextrous designs. These aspirations provide an overarching goal that permits exploitation and exploration to coexist.
  • The forces of inertia in companies are strong (mentioned here, here and here). The legions of once successful firms that have fallen on hard times or gone out of business underscore how hard it is to break out of a rut, especially a comfortable, profitable rut.
  • They separate their new, exploratory units from their traditional, exploitative ones, allowing for different processes, structures, and cultures; at the same time, they maintain tight links across units at the senior executive level
  • Building an ambidextrous organization is by no means easy, but the structure itself, combining organisational separation with senior team integration, is not difficult to understand. Given The Exec Team’s drive to make it happen, any company can become ambidextrous.

Here are some practical tips that have worked over the years:

  1. Schedule a separate meeting.  There will be a tendency to tag an update on the innovation initiatives to the end of an existing meeting rather than schedule a different meeting,  this is a mistake as the head space of an innovation meeting is quite different than that of the day to day operational performance of the business.  Having a single minded meeting will give much better results as the attendees are focused on the specific outcomes.
  2. Off Sites:  Similar to the above, arrange a day offsite to discuss innovation, ideally quarterly.  The change of scene can be very refreshing and removes any tie to the day to day management of the business.
  3. Don’t restrict innovation and development of innovation plans to the C-suite.  There will be people scattered all throughout the organisation that have a view on the future and what it will look like.  Make sure you include this talent in defining the future, as then you will have the best chance on developing horizon 2 and 3 solutions.
  4. It may be a gross generalisation however the young stars of your organisation are either the consumers of the future or a lot closer to the future than the older leadership team.  As they grew up with a completely different worldview which is hugely valuable to tap into.


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