07/07/2010 01:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Insights on Doing Both: A Conversation With Inder Sidhu

The current business landscape is ripe with dichotomies: Run today's business or invest for tomorrow? Nurture innovation or drive operational excellence? Conventional wisdom says that organizations wrestling with two divergent choices will more likely succeed if they select one option over the other and pursue it to fruition. But is that really true? I believe that traditional thinking is often wrong. Tradeoffs and compromises hinder success and limit potential. Instead of wrestling between two difficult options, why not do both?

I believe this is the key to addressing today's business realities and capturing new opportunities for growth.

Over the next few days, I will explore this approach here and on video. I hope you will comment or Tweet with your thoughts and additional questions.

What does doing both mean?
Doing both means refusing to accept that tradeoffs are the only way. In simple terms, it means consciously choosing to pursue two seemingly opposing activities at the same time, each for the benefit of the other.

At my company, Cisco, we view opportunities along a continuum and adapt accordingly. More often than not, that means doing two things at once, such as pursuing traditional business customers and consumers, nurturing teams and superstars, and producing sustaining and disruptive innovation. This approach is not about avoiding a tough decision. Tension between complementary alternatives is healthy. It also creates a multiplier effect where each choice strengthens the other. Instead of balanced compromise between two objectives, you get a mutually reinforcing multiplier in which each side makes the other better -- a flywheel effect.

What is the relevance of doing both in today's business world?
Think about business today: As the economic recovery gains momentum, leaders find themselves in a time of great upheaval. Doing both is practical advice for those seeking answers to the challenging questions of how to move their businesses forward in the face of new realities.

If you are in the healthcare industry, you can improve patient care and reduce costs. If you're in manufacturing, you can increase productivity and lower greenhouse emissions. And if you're in the public sector, you can expand access to information and protect the privacy of your constituents.

In almost every scenario, the best approach is to do both -- and not just in product development, but in employee relations, customer service, partner management, and more.

How does doing both apply beyond business?
You can find examples in most areas of life. Doing both holds true in sports, in nature, and in business -- in fact, in most aspects of life. Gymnasts need strength and flexibility. Sports teams win with offense and defense. Ecosystems depend on both prey and predators. Car makers focus on safety and performance. Parents give their children roots and wings. And a successful business prioritizes growth and profitability. Innovation and operational excellence.

Doing both could be interpreted to mean "avoid making decisions." Is that a concern?
No, not at all. Doing both is not a substitute for decision making -- just the opposite. It requires a conscious decision, careful planning, and artful execution.

Doesn't some of your advice fly in the face of conventional wisdom?
Yes. Conventional wisdom is often about "not invented here" and "core competencies." But these ideals don't cut it in a world that is more complicated, more global, and more collaborative than ever before. Disruptive innovations, new business models, and unforeseen challenges are impacting almost every industry. Business leaders who believe they are immune to these realities because of their niche markets or commanding market shares may not be prepared to master the multiple disciplines needed to succeed today. While unconventional, doing both is the only way to deal with today's market realities.

Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.