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MAST: Mental Ambidexterity in Strategic Thinking

Massa, L. & Ferriani, S. ORCID: 0000-0001-9669-3486 (2019). MAST: Mental Ambidexterity in Strategic Thinking. London, UK: Cass Knowledge.


There are two fundamental ways to think about what strategy is. The first one is strategy as a plan of action for reaching one or several goals. The second one is strategy as discipline, a formalized body of knowledge. The latter can be understood as the set of governing ideas that guide managers in the identification of opportunities for value creation and the realization of that value. In the present article, we argue that these ideas tend to fall into two main paradigms, which come with two metaphors about managers: managers as commanders and managers as designers. We further argue that these represent two fundamental ways of thinking, which in turn become ways of ‘seeing’ and even feeling. Is one better than the other? We suggest that is not the right question to ask. Rather it is important to appreciate that these are worldviews that affect how we interpret our day-to-day reality and our ability to see opportunities. We introduce the notion of Mental Ambidexterity in Strategic Thinking (MAST) and define it as the ability to hold both views of the world—that of the commander and that of the designer— and play with them simultaneously, rather than focusing solely on one and rejecting the other. MAST is an individual level capability; it is a flexible, non-ideological and fluid mode of cognition. At the core, it is characterized by switching flexibility back and forth between rational decisionmaking among alternatives, and creation of new alternatives, between what is and what could be. We illustrate three principles – i) intellectual humility, ii) contingent thinking and iii) poke into ambiguity – that act as catalysts for individuals to develop MAST capabilities.

Publication Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Additional Information: ©2019, the authors.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
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