A new version of my paper with Brad Staats, Mike Tushman, and Dave Upton on how deliberate perturbation can sustain innovation in mature organizations is available for download from SSRN. Here is the 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 theoretical 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, exogenous perturbations become increasingly scarce to the point that exploration is stifled and inertia sets in. We theorize 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.