Faculty Spotlight (Michael Tushman)

Michael (Mike) Tushman is the Paul R. Lawrence MBA Class of 1942 Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Professor Tushman is internationally recognized for his work on the relations between technological change, executive leadership and organization adaptation. His work centers on the role of senior teams in building organizations that host incremental as well as discontinuous innovation as well as leading those organizational changes associated with innovation streams. His work on ambidextrous organizational designs focuses on organizational and senior team characteristics that enable firms to exploit current capabilities as well explore into new spaces. Some of these core ideas were articulated in his Harvard Business Review article entitled The Ambidextrous CEO. Mike Tushman is also involved in comprehensive and focused executive education programs, the MBA program, as well as its doctoral programs. He is now faculty chair of the Program for Leadership Development (PLD) and co-faculty chair of Leading Change and Organizational Renewal (LCOR).

In 2016, Mike Tushman and his colleague Charles O'Reilly at Stanford published Lead and Disrupt: How to Solve the Innovator’s Dilemma, Stanford University Press. In an interview with HBS Working Knowledge after the release of the book, Mike describes how out-of-touch leadership often leads to company failures especially when they fail to innovate while doing their core business well.

In his role as a member of the faculty of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Mike has been a collaborator with the PELP project and the Ed.L.D. steering committee for many years. In this capacity, Mike has delved into the world of leadership in large urban school districts. His most recent PELP case study entitled Denver Public Schools 2015: Innovation and Performance? looks at the challenges Superintendent Tom Boasberg and the leadership team of Denver Public Schools faced in trying to get improvement system-wide while at the same time incentivizing and supporting innovation at the school level. In speaking to PELP this winter, Mike relayed some of his thoughts about the Denver case:

PELP: How can the lessons of ambidexterity and innovative leadership help large urban school districts lead for improvement in the 21st century?

Mike: The reason we titled the case Innovation and Performance with a question mark is because the three key people - Boasberg, Alyssa, and Susana - had this dual challenge of fixing schools and innovating. Partly, the challenge of being an ambidextrous leader is to fix broken organizations and innovate. Can they build organizations that have the capabilities, cultures, and organizational architectures to operate in those dual modes. How does Tom and his team both respect fixing the schools and respect total innovation in the schools? As a principal and superintendent, you can't just fix the current school and not look to the future. You can't just do the future because the kids need to be served better right now. It doesn't make it easy, but it makes it legitimate to talk about. Once people have the same cognitive model or mental schema on what's going on here than they're more capable to take action.

PELP: Yes because there's seemingly a lot more stakeholders to convince of that mental schema in a public organization like a large urban school district.

Mike: Partly what we spent a lot of time in Denver on was this identity question because these technical changes - in their case blended learning and personalized education - had an idea impact on the teacher and on the school itself. To what extent do Tom, Susana, and Alyssa want to talk about such loaded issues in their district. Recently I went to Denver and presented the case to Tom Boasberg and his senior team. Then I presented the case to his board, and I followed that by presenting it to the Denver community. I give Tom and his team a lot of credit for setting up such a complicated, politically-fraught set of meetings.