Clumsy Solutions, Messy Institutions and Cultural Change

  • Steven Ney
  • Christoph Meinel
Part of the Understanding Innovation book series (UNDINNO)


This chapter asks what innovation, wicked problems and design thinking mean for large organisations. At present, large institutions are poorly equipped to tackle complex and uncertain challenges. Indeed, these organisations seem more effective at what the veteran organisational theorist James March (1991) refers to as the exploitation of existing knowledge rather than the exploration of new knowledge. Since survival requires both exploitation and exploration, large organisations will need to find ways of engaging in both modes of operation: in short, they need to become ‘ambidextrous’. Design thinking, this chapter will argue, can teach large organisations to use their ‘other hand’. Building on the work of Roger Martin, Chap.  3 develops a framework that relates Design Thinking to cultural changes that bring about ‘ambidexterity’. Drawing on insights from social anthropology, the chapter suggests that we think of organisations as viable combinations of social relations, ideas and practices. For cultural change to be sustainable, then, it needs to take place in these three organisational dimensions. This approach also argues that tackling wicked problems requires the mobilisation of a wider range of institutional logics than the exploration/exploitation or the validity/reliability dichotomies may suggest. Finding effective responses to wicked problems may call for what we call ‘multi-dextrous’ or ‘messy’ institutions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven Ney
    • 1
  • Christoph Meinel
    • 2
  1. 1.T-Systems InternationalBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Hasso Plattner InstituteUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany

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