Managing Tensions between Exploitative and Exploratory Innovation through Purchasing Function Ambidexterity

François Constant*, Richard Calvi, Thomas E. Johnsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This paper investigates how companies can manage tensions between exploitative and exploratory innovation by developing an ambidextrous purchasing function. We identify four types of ambidexterity (structural, sequential, contextual and managerial) and discuss how these can be combined to complement each other. We present an in-depth case study of a large firm (S Corp), which has implemented an ambidextrous purchasing function to contribute simultaneously to exploitative and exploratory innovation. We observe how the four types of ambidexterity were manifested and applied to balance purchasing's contribution to both exploratory and exploitative innovations. The case study shows how the different types of ambidexterity can be combined to mitigate tensions. Based on our case study findings, we identify a two-stage process of developing purchasing ambidexterity, combining the four types of ambidexterity over time. Our findings enrich the understanding of how companies can develop an ambidextrous purchasing function to facilitate purchasing's contribution to exploitative innovation and exploratory innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100645
JournalJournal of Purchasing & Supply Management
Issue number4
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Purchasing
  • Innovation
  • Embidexterity
  • Tensions

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