Behind ambidextrous search: The micro-foundations of search in family and non-family firms

Ambra Mazzelli*, Alfredo De Massis, Antonio Messeni Petruzzelli, Manlio Del Giudice, Zaheer Khan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


We offer a microfoundational perspective to challenge the consensual view of ambidextrous search as a superior approach to addressing performance problems. We characterize the nature of search as both ostensive and agentic, and suggest that search performance is idiosyncratic across individuals and highly dependent on decision makers' cognitive frameworks and social contexts. To test our theory, we develop a mathematical simulation model that formalizes the mechanisms regulating the search behaviors of senior leaders in both family and non-family firms. Our results suggest that a search approach that is conducive to superior performance in non-family firms may yield inferior performance in family firms depending on the senior leader's family membership and her/his positional history in the firm (i.e., non-family, founder, later-generation). Moreover, we reveal that while ambidexterity constitutes a superior search approach for family firms with founder CEOs, those with non-family or later-generation CEOs would seem to benefit from specialization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101882
JournalLong Range Planning
Early online date8 May 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 May 2019


  • Ambidexterity
  • Exploitation
  • Exploration
  • Family firms
  • Microfoundations
  • Search
  • Social context

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