Enterprise and Innovation Requires “Super-flexibility”-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Enterprise and Innovation Requires “Super-flexibility”-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Enterprise and Innovation Requires “Super-flexibility”

Professor Stuart Evans, Distinguished Professor, Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley and Dr. Homa Bahrami, Senior Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, have been studying the dynamics of flexibility in Silicon Valley since the mid-1980’s. In fact, Evans wrote his doctoral dissertation on flexibility and technology policy. Their approach to defining the coined term, “super-flexibility,” evolved from researching various facets of flexibility including the numerous terms used in different fields with a family resemblance; such as agility, liquidity, resilience, and plasticity.

In the past, researchers focused their attention to examining single aspects of flexibility in isolated disciplines. Software engineers embraced agility, Finance scholars examined liquidity; Psychologists concentrated on resilience; Biologists focused on plasticity. Evans and Bahrami take a cross-disciplinary approach. They define super-flexibility as the ability to dynamically adapt to new realities, a constant balancing act between the ability to withstand turbulence and the ability to transform. Together they have co-authored a book entitled, Super-flexibility for Knowledge Enterprises: A Toolkit for Dynamic Adaptation.

According to Evans, “In Silicon Valley we have observed many companies from startups to large giants, as well as growing adolescents in between. This book equips knowledge workers with a toolkit of conceptual frameworks that can be applied to real-life situations.”

Evans was drawn to Silicon Valley because of its dynamic, innovative ecosystem. In such an unpredictable environment, the need to spontaneously adjust is critical for success. Evans offers, “On any given day, you can be staring into the abyss and then, quickly bounce back with a major customer win”. Additionally, companies in this region were the first to become instantly global due to the fact that their founders are typically from multi-cultural backgrounds with international connections. The Internet has now made this standard practice.

The software industry, like every other high tech sector, is compelled to continuously innovate and adapt to a Darwinian ecosystem. Today, because of the multiplicity of revision triggers, many global, knowledge enterprises face similar dynamics. Business leaders have to face unpredictable changes that require rapid adjustments. The different types of flexibility embedded in the term super-flexibility fuel this adjustment process.

The authors present 5 conceptual frameworks providing an integrated approach to business. These encompass strategy, organization, leadership, execution and innovation. For example, the concept of recalibration is important to understanding how super-flexibility works when executing pioneering initiatives. Evans explains, “Ideas start as experiments; there are many balls in the air. In order for an idea to make it through, there is a need to funnel these down into one or two that are viable. Innovations, strategies and decisions are not made in isolation. Our cross-functional approach provides an integrated toolkit to help teams make real time adjustments in dynamic markets.”

Evans concludes, “As you read recent news stories, contrast the opportunities unfolding in cloud computing, collaborative software, and mobile devices with the crises we have witnessed in financial markets as well as environmental catastrophes; these events underscore both positive and negative revision-triggers where the need for adaptation is crucial. This book presents a “total enterprise” perspective, providing diagnostic frameworks, toolkits, principles and rules that can be used to face dynamic challenges.”