When it is time to make the leap
In December 2020, I had been asked to give a guest lecture on AMBIDEXTERITY to master students at the Stuttgart Media University (Hochschule der Medien). I was supposed to explain the concept of "ambidextrous leadership" during the digital transformation and to give some examples from the German mechanical engineering industry. For the final Q+A session I had prepared a picture of the period of ambidexterity based on technology S-curves.
While one (core) technology is available in the market and being further developed and optimized, another technology rises. Ambidexterity is a perfect mental model for the transition period. It describes the approach of companies to deal with both the existing technologies, products, solutions, business models and at the same time the new and promising ones for the future:
What happens shortly before you jump?
I had been busy quite a while then with the question of what happens shortly before you jump to the new and what finally makes companies jump. And I was exited to have the students' discussion circle around the red area of the picture: the moment before you take the leap.
The session took an interesting turn when someone came up with SKYDIVING. What do you think, before you jump? How do you feel? What’s the risk?
After the lecture I came across this great article on the fear of skydiving, published by a tandem skydiving center in Long Island:
The text starts with the risks of the skydive and the thorough preparation for it. It brings you to the drop zone. You board the aircraft. You take off. The aircraft gains altitude. You are guided to the door. You sit on the edge of the doorframe…
And you JUMP!
You float on the air for a while. You feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins. After the freefall the parachute will be deployed. Things get quiet. You slow down. And finally, you approach to the landing area.
“Even the most seasoned jumper still gets butterflies in their stomachs from time to time - it's all part of the experience!” (Quote from the text)
Back to ambidexterity and the transformation of companies:
Yes, ambidexterity does help organizations get prepared for the leap. It has an enormous power to lead companies through the period of the digital transformation or any other kind of transformation. It helps to understand the risks. You will be guided to the door until you sit on the edge of the doorframe. But it is just the preparation for the leap – not the leap itself.
Ambidexterity is prep time
We become familiar with the new and aware of the risks. We might be held back by fear. Perhaps this is a general fear of the unknown. Perhaps we are afraid of new technologies or new leadership styles, of possible risks. All of that might hold us back. ...And we tend to extend our stay in the “ambidextrous zone”.
The problem starts when you do not get off the plane at all. When you get stuck in ambidexterity. You might feel much more comfortable in the plane – or in the transition period - that you’ll never dare to jump. If you stay too long in the comfort zone, while cautiously testing out the new, ambidexterity will lose its extraordinary power. It will rather become a nice sightseeing flight.
Many people share that fear of the leap – even those who went through radical transformation many times. Even these people still get butterflies in their stomach before they jump. It’s part of the game! And this fear of the unknown should not hold us back. “It is one of the most incredible experiences you’ll ever have” – says the skydiver.
Ambidexterity is meant to prepare us for the leap into the future. But in the end, we have to make a decision – and JUMP!!
What’s your company’s skydiving experience?