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  • Navigating Ambidextrous Innovation in Online Communities and Forums

      Executive summary

      • Ambidextrous innovation involves balancing incremental and transformative innovations.
      • Successful models like Kodak, USA Today, and Ciba Vision demonstrate the separation and integration of innovation units.
      • Understanding different types of innovation (incremental, architectural, discontinuous) is crucial for online communities.
      • Building an ambidextrous community involves recognizing innovation types, structuring for innovation, maintaining a clear vision, and developing managerial sensitivity.

    The landscape of online communities and forums is constantly evolving, and the need for ambidextrous innovation has never been more pronounced. Ambidextrous organizations, capable of balancing exploration of new opportunities with the enhancement of existing capabilities, can serve as a model for online community managers seeking to drive both incremental improvements and groundbreaking innovations. In this context, we explore the principles of ambidextrous innovation and how they can be applied to online communities and forums.

    Understanding Ambidextrous Innovation

    Ambidextrous innovation is the art of simultaneously pursuing incremental advancements and transformative breakthroughs. It's a delicate balancing act that online community managers must master to keep their communities relevant and engaging. Traditionally, organizations have struggled to strike this balance, but the principles of ambidextrous innovation offer a way forward.

    Separation and Integration: The Kodak and Boeing Approach

    Historically, some companies like Kodak and Boeing have successfully implemented ambidextrous innovation by creating distinct units for exploration and exploitation. Kodak, for example, established separate divisions for digital imaging while maintaining its traditional film business. This structural separation allowed for different processes, structures, and cultures to thrive within each unit. At the same time, tight links at the senior executive level ensured seamless coordination and resource sharing.

    Innovation Types and Targets

    To thrive in the dynamic landscape of online communities and forums, it's crucial to understand the different types of innovation and their targets:

    • Incremental Innovations: These are small, continuous improvements to existing community features, user experiences, or engagement strategies. They target current community members and aim to enhance their satisfaction and participation.
    • Architectural Innovations: These involve reimagining the underlying structures and systems that power online communities. They may target existing markets beyond the current user base, seeking to expand the community's reach and impact.
    • Discontinuous Innovations: These are radical, game-changing innovations that challenge the very foundations of online communities. They often serve entirely new markets and audiences, driving exponential growth.

    The USA Today and Ciba Vision Examples

    Two real-world examples, USA Today and Ciba Vision, illustrate the principles of ambidextrous innovation in action:

    • USA Today: Faced with declining print readership and rising digital competition, USA Today adopted a network strategy, integrating its print, online, and television units. The senior leadership across all three businesses was tightly integrated, fostering cross-unit collaboration.
    • Ciba Vision: To survive in the face of competition from giants like J&J, Ciba Vision embarked on multiple development projects. Each project operated as an autonomous unit with distinct processes and cultures. Integration at the managerial level ensured synergy between breakthrough initiatives and the conventional operation.

    Building an Ambidextrous Community

    To apply ambidextrous innovation principles to online communities and forums:

    • Recognize Different Innovation Types: Identify opportunities for incremental, architectural, and discontinuous innovations within your community.
    • Structure for Innovation: Consider creating separate units or teams dedicated to exploring and exploiting innovations. Maintain strong senior-level coordination.
    • Clear Vision: Communicate a clear and compelling vision for innovation within your online community. Ensure alignment among senior team members.
    • Managerial Sensitivity: Foster managers who can understand and navigate the unique needs of different aspects of your community.


    The principles of ambidextrous innovation offer a valuable framework for online community managers seeking to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of online communities and forums. By balancing incremental improvements with transformative innovations and embracing different types of innovation and targets, online communities can thrive, adapt, and remain at the forefront of their respective niches.


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