CEO Temporal Ambivalence: The Dual Pathway to Firm Ambidextrous Innovation

How to address the intertemporal tension between the short term and long term is a fundamental question to strategic decision-makers. From a dispositional perspective, I argue that the way CEOs manage the intertemporal tension is shaped by their individual temporal characteristics. Specifically, I introduce the concept of CEO temporal ambivalence to capture the extent to which CEOs characteristically devote equally strong attention to the present and future. Building on this concept, I propose a dual pathway model explaining how CEO temporal ambivalence facilitates firm ambidextrous innovation through two intervening cognitive mechanisms (attitude toward contradictions; perception of complex causality) of the CEO. A multi-wave, multi-source survey study of 133 CEOs in the UK high-tech small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), supplemented with an online experiment with 346 executives, lent strong support for the proposed model. Interviews with participating CEOs provided further insights into the studied phenomenon. Overall, the findings advance a key dispositional source driving firms to address the short term and long term simultaneously, which complements the dominant situation-driven perspective on firm intertemporal choices. The notion of temporal ambivalence also bridges the compartmentalized strategic implications of executives’ present and future temporal focus, enriching research on the psychological time of upper echelons.
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