I recently shared a post exploring cultural agility in relation to innovation and disruption: broadly the premise is that different states of innovation may require different manifestations of culture, some of which can co-exist, and some of which sit in opposition. As i’ve started sharing this work more widely, i’m building out of the illustrations, to form a better sequence, and sharing some of this new work today, as part of #WorkingOutLoud.
At it’s heart, i’m looking at the following sequence: ‘KNOWN’ culture is a safe one, repeating the same action sets, with a focus on optimisation, followed by ‘INNOVATIVE’ cultures, which are curious, and explore the notion of new action sets. Innovative cultures look at potentially new ways of doing things. It’s perfectly normal for these two cultures to co-exist, often geolocated separately, with one tolerating or hosting the other.
The shift from ‘innovation’ to a culture of ‘EXPERIMENTATION’ is a small one, and i’m separating them by attitude to risk. The reason for this is that ‘attitude to risk’ is a common reason regulated organisations share with me as to why they are unable to adopt more social approaches. They have the intent, they may even be innovative, but they are unable to experiment. Nonetheless, an organisation may hold all three of these cultures concurrently, if it is able to rationalise and segment them far enough.
That can change when we get to ‘DISRUPTION’ though: a Disruptive culture does not simply disrupt the market, it may disrupt itself, specifically it may disrupt established modes of power, established hierarchy and associated nested tribes, established wealth, established pride, and so on. And whilst external disruption may trigger a market, or regulatory response, internal disruption may trigger an immune response. Immune responses are those whereby organisations deny change, and actively kill it off.
There is a final, transient, cultural stage, which i am currently calling ‘EXPLOITATION’, because it relates to the ability to exploit innovation, but which i may change to call something more like ‘OPTIMISATION’, as ‘exploit’ has negative connotations, implying that we are exploiting people badly, rather than innovation, well. I’m sticking with it for now, because in this stage we are not simply optimising, we are trying to drive value, return, and profit, whilst streamlining to make it safe (reduce the risk we started to capture during experimentation).
Exploitation should be a transient cultural phase, but requires a specific cultural agility, in being reconfigurable (as we explore in the Socially Dynamic Organisation, which is reconfigurable to need).
I’ll return to this work in due course, to explore the implications for leadership, in creating conditions for this cultural fluidity.