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Wellsprings of Creation: How Perturbation Sustains Exploration in Mature Organizations

37 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2009 Last revised: 22 Sep 2012

David James Brunner

Policy Alternatives Research Institute

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Michael Tushman

Harvard University - Organizational Behavior Unit

David M. Upton

University of Oxford - Said Business School

Date Written: July 26, 2010

Abstract

Organizations struggle to balance simultaneous imperatives to exploit and explore, yet theorists differ as to whether exploitation undermines or enhances exploration. The debate reflects a gap: the missing mechanism by which organizations break free of old routines and discover new ones. We propose that the missing link is perturbation: novel stimuli that disrupt the execution of specialized routines. Perturbation creates opportunities for organizations to invoke exploratory, general-purpose problem-solving routines. In mature organizations, perturbations become increasingly scarce to the point that exploration is stifled and inertia sets in. We suggest that mature organizations can sustain exploration by deliberately inducing perturbations in their own processes. Our theory yields testable hypotheses about the relationships between exploitation, perturbation, and exploration. We provide illustrations from The Toyota Motor Company to show how deliberate perturbation enables efficient exploration in the midst of intense exploitation.

Suggested Citation

Brunner, David James and Staats, Bradley R. and Tushman, Michael and Upton, David M., Wellsprings of Creation: How Perturbation Sustains Exploration in Mature Organizations (July 26, 2010). Harvard Business School Organizational Behavior Unit Working Paper No. 09-011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1420900 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1420900

David James Brunner

Policy Alternatives Research Institute ( email )

Yayoi 1-1-1
Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo, 113-8657
Japan

Bradley R. Staats (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School ( email )

McColl Building, CB#3490
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

Michael Tushman

Harvard University - Organizational Behavior Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

David M. Upton

University of Oxford - Said Business School ( email )

Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
Great Britain

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