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Journal articles (2021), European Management Journal, 39 (2), pp. 214-225

Managing skunkworks to achieve ambidexterity: The Robinson Crusoe effect

DONADA Carole , MOTHE Caroline, ALEGRE Joaquín

Literature on ambidexterity emphasizes the need for both exploration and exploitation. Large firms usually choose to implement structural ambidexterity to separate both activities. We here focus on an extreme case of such structural partitioning implemented as a secret skunkworks project in a large French automotive company. A qualitative survey using both primary and secondary data shows that the major basic and initial characteristics of a skunkworks (i.e. secrecy, urgency, and autonomy) created favorable conditions for the technological exploration. However, exploitation failed due to precisely those same characteristics coupled with the fact that the project did not respond to a specific market demand: The skunkworks suffered from what we call the "Robinson Crusoe effect." We therefore contribute to the literature on skunkworks, which have remained understudied in the academic literature, as well as on ambidexterity, by showing how the interrelation between different factors is crucial for structural ambidexterity to be successful Link to the article

DONADA, C., MOTHE, C. and ALEGRE, J. (2021). Managing skunkworks to achieve ambidexterity: The Robinson Crusoe effect. European Management Journal, 39(2), pp. 214-225.

Keywords : #Ambidexterity, #Exploitation/exploration, #Skunkworks, #Radical-innovation