Can you train ambidextrousness

Disruptive thinking and ambidexterity in organizations


From Prof. Dr. Peter Fischer, Chair for Work, Organizational, Social and Business Psychology at the University of Regensburg and Dr. Hanjo Gergs, Senior Consultant at AUDI AG.

Disruptive thinking, i.e. thinking in terms of fundamental changes and radical changes in perspective, has been much discussed since the meeting of globalization and digitization. The question is how managers can adapt to this new requirement.

One answer from evidence-based scientific psychology is: Executives must learn to enable efficiency and flexibility or renewal in their organizations at the same time. This “two-handedness” is scientifically known as ambidexterity or ambidexterity. Ambidexterity is a form of practical implementation of disruptive thinking in organizations, i.e. tried and tested methods are retained and used economically while at the same time thinking about future products in a disruptive and experimental way, like in a start-up company. Research on disruptive and non-disruptive confirmatory thinking has made great strides in recent years. They enable direct derivation of psychological methods for practical application for managers.

Disruptive thinking is the ability of one or more people to cognitively and affectively detach themselves from their usual standpoints, attitudes, preferences or decisions in the short term and to view topics or situations relatively impartially from a decidedly different perspective. However, people often find it difficult to move away from their fundamental points of view. This is shown by research on the human affirmation tendency (e.g. Frey, 1986; Fischer & Greitemeyer, 2011), on distorted self-serving information processing (Ditto et al., 1998), on positive hypothesis testing (Snyder & Swann, 1978) and on defensive motivation in decisions (Chaiken et al., 1989). When people have made a decision - for example to develop product A - then they mostly want to perceive information that supports this decision. Critical information that speaks against product A and perhaps even for product B, on the other hand, is systematically devalued, underestimated and actively searched for significantly less often.

This process of distorted information processing is the opposite of disruptive thinking, which is characterized by balanced information processing, impartiality, critical questioning of one's own viewpoints and preferences and, above all, by openness to new experiences and insights. In a contemporary leadership development, these skills for disruptive thinking should be taught in theory and practice. It is about making managers aware of their deeper-lying cognitive mechanisms and allowing them to experience and reflect on them “in their own consciousness processes”.

20 years of research on the decision-making behavior of people have shown how disruptive thinking works in its scientific-psychological basis and that it can to a large extent be trained and conveyed profitably in organizations to managers and employees.

Further information can be found on the homepage of the University of Regensburg: and on the website of the Society for Empirical Organizational Research: www.