Building an Agile Innovation Culture – Leader as Agility Shifter

Building an Agile Innovation Culture

We are living in an age of hyper change and massive disruption, what Daniel Pink calls “The Conceptual Age” stating that the future “belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind”: a new breed of knowledge workers, who know how to be, think and act differently within the context of an agile innovation culture.

What is an agile innovation culture?

Where people have permission, feel safe and empowered within their organizational environment, to get things done by knowing how to;

  • Quickly embrace, respond, adapt to and safely deal effectively with change,
  • Come from an empty or beginners mind and be passionate about learning,
  • Regulate people’s levels of complacency, discomfort and unconscious resistances to change,
  • Improvise, play and experiment with novel concepts and new ideas to learn quickly by failing fast,
  • Feel confident to take smart and courageous risks,
  • Rock the ‘business as usual’ boat, be provocative and safely disrupt the status quo,
  • Collaborate, connect and network across conventional boundaries,
  • Be inquisitive and curious about anything and everything,
  • Generatively discover, explore, respond to & solve problems,
  • Be both empathic and compassionate.

Where organizations cultivate agility shifting leaders; passionate, nimble, confident and courageous people, who strategically and systemically co-create energetic, engaged and customer centric environments that align with, and bring to life, people’s purposefulness, creativity and wellness.

What are the benefits of cultivating an agile innovation culture

It better enables organizations to achieve the key outcomes they want to have; delivering the required bottom line results; increasing ROI, executing business growth goals and improving business value and customer advocacy; or in making productivity and efficiency gains to compete successfully.

“The cultural lens is the most difficult to “get right” in the sense of having a culture that fits the challenges the organization is presently facing. It certainly is the most vexing to both diagnose and alter, in terms of difficulty and time. Change that threatens valued professional or occupational identities is particularly problematic. My sense is that if you can figure out a way to work within and with respect for the various cultures represented in the organization, change is somewhat easier. Culture is not a variable that one tunes up or down. It is a set of deeply embedded habits and ways of looking at the world that works and works well for cultural members. So, there are limits, serious ones, to the extent which cultural change can be directed and hastened.”  ~John Van Maanen

At ImagineNation™ we embrace a strategic, systemic and human centered approach to contextualizing, measuring and benchmarking an agile innovation culture. Suggesting that innovation is like a dance, and to dance well it’s important to know the key steps and how to orchestrate them carefully by balancing;

  • Strategy (vision) and Systems (technology),
  • With People (culture) and Learning (capability).

The result is the development of an innovation culture that creates both a human and a process focused environment that is technology, people and customer centric.

Emerging new role for leadership

Your operating culture will either support or inhibit your innovation success – leaders will collude with your operating culture, or exit it! This creates an exciting opportunity and a new role for leaders as ‘agility shifters’ – so they can be effective by making intentional shifts in changing and innovation contexts. Becoming “a different kind of person with a different kind of mind” who knows how to be, think and act differently within an agile innovation culture; by knowing how to be deeply present to, see and respond to complex adaptive systems and to the unexpected and the unplanned.

‘Agility shifters’ are people who have the speed and grace to respond to the unexpected, who provocate and disrupt to create changes, and shift their way of being, thinking and doing, to co-create new ways of adding value that people value & cherish.

Depending less on new skills and knowledge and much more on clarifying the context, and creating the safe space for people co-create ideas, breakthrough and inflection points, together within a collective holding space to;

  • Emerge creative ideas,
  • Explore new roles,
  • Allow more flexibility, improvisation and play in the system.

Who cultivate their own and their people’s innovation agility;

  • Capacity including emotional, visceral & cognitive abilities to flow and flourish with uncertainty and volatility.
  • Competence including the mindsets, behaviours and generative skills necessary to respond to the unexpected and unplanned by being safely disruptive in generating new developments and innovative breakthroughs from emerging trends. Developing agile (nonlinear & non-prescriptive) learning, planning & decision making processes.
  • Confidence including the self-efficacy to trust their own, and others’ judgments, competence and capacity to be effective in changing contexts.

Making the strategic agile innovation culture and leadership decision

If you really want your business enterprise to flourish, then be willing to play, improvise and experiment with introducing innovation as a strategic, systemic and human centered way of “doing things around here.” Doing this effectively will harness and mobilize your leader’s and your people’s collective genius and deeply engage them in doing meaningful, purposeful, creative and energizing work.

You will also take ownership of your future and enable your organization to succeed, grow, sustain and flourish in times of hyper change and massive disruption.

What can you add to this discussion? I look forward to your thoughts and comments on social media. 

About the Author

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Janet Sernack

Janet Sernack is the Founder & CEO of ImagineNation™ a global network of future-thinking leaders in innovation consulting, culture, leadership & team development, and coaching for individuals, teams & organisations. She applies her 30 years of global experience in consulting, culture development, change management, leadership & top team development, innovation education, and coaching interventions to her current work in innovation & entrepreneurship. She leads the way in helping businesses adapt & grow through disruption, by challenging businesses to be, think & act differently to co-create a world where people matter & innovation is the norm. Contact Janet at to find out how ImagineNation can partner with you to learn, adapt, collaborate and grow your organization in the digital age.