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Productive Tensions

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Productive Tensions

How Every Leader Can Tackle Innovation’s Toughest Trade-Offs (Management on the Cutting Edge)

MIT Press,

15 min read
8 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

New theories on how to maximize innovation amid complexity and uncertainty.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable
  • Concrete Examples


Leaders today must carefully manage tensions to find success, explain researchers Rory M. McDonald and Christopher B. Bingham. Whether you’re trying to decide to borrow from your competitors or differentiate, or to embrace familiarity or novelty, McDonald and Bingham urge you to undertake a strategic reorientation. Drawing on wide-ranging research from executives across the world, the authors find solutions for leaders who struggle to make rapid decisions and seize opportunities in an increasingly complex, fast-moving and uncertain market. They provide readers with new theories to help them embrace innovation by working smarter – not harder.


Be systematic and focused during opportunity selection and disciplined during execution.

Leaders must navigate the tension between taking a more flexible, intuitive approach to growth and sticking with a more disciplined, rigid plan. While some leaders and experts feel planning growth helps you better identify potential risks and prepare for contingencies, others argue that experimentation, improvisation and adaptation are essential for businesses hoping to seize opportunities in dynamic environments. 

Despite what many believe, Christopher B. Bingham and Rory M. McDonald’s research indicates that these perspectives aren’t mutually exclusive, and that growth-oriented teams should embrace flexible and planned approaches. 

“Opportunity capture” is a two-step process: First, teams engage in “opportunity selection,” during which they select which consumer problems to create solutions for. They then engage in “opportunity execution” – developing customer solutions. 

Surprisingly, leaders who embrace a more flexible, intuitive approach to growth – “opportunists” – display more flexibility during...

About the Authors

Christopher B. Bingham is a professor and chair of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Rory M. McDonald is a Harvard Business School associate professor of business administration.

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    S. S. getAbstract 1 year ago
    This is one of the best books published on innovation by MIT in 2022. We can clearly see the influence of Clayton Christensen on the new ideas --productive tensions-- shared by the authors. It's a must-read for organizations that want to successfully navigate the turbulent waters of markets continuously disrupted by newcomers and technology.

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