F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald was describing the integrated approach of concurrent focus that created what I call Ambidextrous Learning Communities.
Ambidextrous Learning Communities have an “integrated” or "ambidextrous" approach to their focus and their function.
The Integrated Approach has a concurrent focus, both internal and external. They focus on developing strong norms, processes for communicating, problem solving, building consensus, etc. This is important, but Ambidextrous Learning Communities must recognize that equally important, is a clear understanding of how their work fits into the needs of those in the organization outside of the team.
They clearly understand that their work must fit within the greater goals of the organization. They are externally focused and internally focused. They do not wait to create and establish internal norms or practices for every aspect of their work, but rather, get on with the work meeting the needs organization and the team together, while simultaneously developing internal processes. They also keep an eye out for trends in culture, technology, new research, new strategies, and learning needs developing outside of the group.
The internal focus develops key group processes, norms, goals, time-lines, etc. The internal focus is what great Ambidextrous Learning Communities do to build solid teams. But this is not enough. The must also have the concurrent external focus. They need to understand the expectations of those served by the organization and constantly update their knowledge about available talent, skills, and abilities in their circle or network of useful outsiders. Further they must be aware of the external situation in which they function. The external focus has at its heart the principles of The Expectations, Network, and Situation. (T.E.N.S.)
Being able to have the concurrent focus of the internal and external approach is to be ambidextrous.
Ambidextrous Learning Communities must have a strong unwavering and unyielding commitment to use best practices, research backed methods, and proven strategies. Ambidextrous Learning Communities must practice “kaizen”, the continual improvement in their work.
A strong Ambidextrous Learning Community is always seeking to gain a greater depth of understanding of their work and those they serve. They must continually learn and unlearn practices. Their internal focus is to find those critical aspects of their work and apply the best-known methods without exception to meet the needs of those they serve.
The other concurrent focus of the Ambidextrous Learning Community function is to continually innovate. If “kaizen” is getting better at what you do, the term “tenakaizen” is to make something completely different—to innovate.
The Ambidextrous Learning Community should be continuously learning to do new things in new ways. The only way to even greater results is to find new innovative ideas and do things in ways that have never been done before.
The Oppossable Mind
The integrated, or Ambidextrous Learning Community demonstrates the ability to have what Roger Martin, dean of Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, call “an opposable mind.”
The “opposable mind” allows a member of a Ambidextrous Learning Community to have the, "…predisposition and capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads. And then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.”
In other words...to be ambidextrous.