DUALISTIC THINKING

APPLIED TO ORGANIZATIONS

 

Barry Sugarman

 

Dualistic thinking is all around us. We see it in common political polarities. The left-right conflict in politics is about two sets of values that seem to conflict: fairness/equity versus achievement/prosperity. Another version of political dualities (opposites) centers on liberty & individualism versus communitarianism. These and other polarities are posed as either/or dilemmas, assuming that more of A means less of B. But now  we ask: How can we have BOTH?

Sometimes we CAN. But there are COSTS or CONDITIONS - usually in the way we must think. Assumptions or mental models that get changed.

 

For example, management doctrine used to assume that Cost and Quality were tradeoffs: high quality must cost more. Then came Lean Management Thinking. Thank you Toyota, Deming, et al. .

 

We all love Win/win solutions -- but sometimes there are unacknowledged costs to third parties. The Lean Management systems that can deliver both high quality and lower costs require tough changes in organizations. In the auto industry it took major manufacturers ten years to create the new system. That is serious cost. 

 

Lean management is the new normal, not per se a competitive advantage. How about the classic duality of exploration (innovation) versus exploitation of the established cash cow? Gotta have both but they cannot (traditonally) coexist. Ambidexterity theory, however, presents a way for a large firm (dominated by a culture of exploiting its proven business model) to shelter a separate venture that is explorator, and still unproven. But you gotta do it right (see Tushman & O’Reilly ).

 

We shall see a case from Microsoft where that giant company sponsored an especially innovative project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DUALITY STRUCTURES

 

A large successful firm (like Microsoft in the 1990's) recruits or creates a  partner for an innovative venture. It shelters the newcomer. Oversees interfaces between new and old parts. When the initial goals are met the new unit loses its special status and is absorbed into the mainstream firm.

 

Any large org. will have duality conflicts, e.g. between design & production, sales & support, operations & central infrastructures Collaboration is essential but conflict is too costly.

 

My case study of Microsoft’s first digital interactive educational product (at the dawn of the multimedia revolution) looks at both micro and macro sides of the relationship and illustrates a conceptual framework that takes dualism seriously. Such a framework is necessary to assess and analyze organizations that dance or surf at the edge of chaos, shifting frequently how they balance various dualities at various levels of the organization. Dynamic capability cannot be understood without attention to dualities -- not just exploration and exploitation. I

 

 

For people and organizations to achieve long-term success (in modern times) they need to be adaptable, capable of change. The right change, of course -- not just any change. Many, most  start-ups fail. Those that succeed will later face changed conditions. Microsoft, for example, was one start-up that succeeded on a large scale, appearing early in the evolution of computing, right at the start of the PC sector. Its PC operating systems (DOS, then Windows) and Office software dominated those markets, with early and continued innovation. But Microsoft was slow to recognize the Internet. Netscape got there first but MS used its vast resources to destroy that rival with its free (later) product.

 

With legacy products to be supported and new editions to be produced, with the strong culture that usually accompanies large scale success, can such a company still create new innovations? Can it change direction to identify and serve a new market before the original cash cow becomes obsolete? Even when a big company supports an innovation center or unit, often the strong culture already formed around the former successful business smothers or scorns the new idea, so it does not have a fair chance to get started. Preserving the spirit of innovation has proven very hard. Tne following case is one example where Bill Gates sponsored and protected an unusually innovative venture at Microsoft.

 

 

Three boats are shown on this page, each with a different level of independence:

 

1) a sleek, massive cruise liner (with some 2000 crew & 2000 passengers) and the amenities of a rich resort community

 

2) a small launch/ lifeboat that shuttles passengers to shore; most of the time it is stowed aboard the cruise ship

 

3) a small, versatile, independent,  working boat (crew of 3-5)

 

Only boat (3) is a whole independent organization. 

Boat (2) is subservient to (1), Boat (1) big as it is, is just part of the fleet owned by a mega-cruise corporation.

 

Metaphorically these boats on the ocean could represent any org. in its environment.

 

 

 

 

 

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ORGmuze
 
by
Barry Sugarman
 

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