Education competencies: Strategic agility and innovation management

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Anticipates future consequences and trends accurately; brings creative ideas to market; recognizes strategic opportunities for change; creates competitive and breakthrough strategies.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Recognizes when change is necessary to do things better Recognizes strategic opportunities for change Articulates visions of possibilities and likelihoods Creates highly effective strategic vision and has an uncanny sense of how situations can unfold; prepares well in advance to take fullest advantage of the changing environment
Assesses which creative ideas and suggestions may work; can plan and operationalize the innovative ideas Accurately assesses the value of creative ideas and suggestions; can plan and operationalize innovative ideas Anticipates future trends accurately Regarded as a proven and respected consultant to groups and organizations in the midst of complex and challenging change
Helps others in the creative thinking and brainstorming processes Manages the creative process of others, bringing their ideas to bear, and projects how potential ideas may play out Recognizes viable creative ideas of others and brings them to the table and to those in a position to implement them Creates competitive and breakthrough strategies and plans; generates an attitude of enthusiastic expectancy in others regarding change and challenge

Has a well-rounded perspective Has broad knowledge and perspective Has a global perspective and broad visionary acumen

Overdoing strategic agility and innovation management

  • May be seen as too theoretical and get too far out in front of others in thinking and planning
  • May not be tolerant of or have patience with day-to-day details
  • May over-complicate plans; may not be able to communicate with tactical or less-complex people, preferring creative people and undervaluing less creative people
  • May err toward the new and reject the old

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • What steps can I take to incorporate others’ creative ideas that I deem viable?
  • What future trends do I see that I can bring to the attention of others?
  • What future trends do I see that others should strategically prepare for now in order to help our organization be all it can be?
  • Have others come to me for advice and assistance to implement a major change?
  • What processes or procedures are not working effectively and must be adjusted or eliminated?
  • What books or professional publications can I read or subscribe to in order to broaden my perspective and keep abreast of what's cutting edge in my field?
  • What "sacred cows" or practices in our organization should I push to get eliminated or revised?

To avoid overdoing strategic agility and innovation management, ask yourself:

  • Am I too theoretical or are my ideas too ethereal for others to envision and own?
  • Am I too engaged in thinking and not dedicated enough to putting my ideas to practical application?
  • Am I too quick to discard the "old" and replace with the "new"?

Interview questions

  • Describe a situation that demonstrates your ability to anticipate future trends accurately. Please include why it was necessary to accurately anticipate the trend or trends.
  • Sometimes, we are in situations where our role islessabout being the one to come up with creative ideas andmoreabout facilitating the creative process or helping others get their ideas implemented. Describe a time when you played this type of role. What did you do to facilitate the process? What were the results?
  • Describe a time when you demonstrated the ability to see the broadest possible view of an issue or challenge or to project scenarios into the future.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Understand your area and make time to strategize: Determine what has been important to those you serve—historically, today, and in the future. Make time to plan a strategy, which will free up time for you later. Delegate as much day-to-day activity as you can.
  • Manage the creative process: Challenge the status quo and generate ideas without initially judging them. Being a strategic visionary requires curiosity and imagination. Think about tomorrow and talk with others about what they think the future will bring.
  • Manage creative people, strategically speaking: Allow time to study problems deeply and turn the problems upside down or consider the mirror image. Apply strategy by linking the variables to see how they come together.
  • Elicit creativity from the group: Have group members ask a lot of questions before they attempt to offer solutions. Use tools, such as a flow chart, to examine and dissect the issue.
  • Extend: Look at your problem as from a distance. Try to see variations in a theme, old ideas in new ways, or borrow ideas from other fields. Extend everything to its extreme before getting down to its essence.
  • Select the idea and then develop the strategy: Employ freedom early in the process, followed by structure. Once you come up with the best notion, subject it to logic and critical thinking. Develop five clear statements about where you want to go and the tactics you may use to get there.
  • Develop a philosophical stance on failure, criticism, and speculation: Remember that innovation is built upon failures and mistakes. Build immediate feedback loops to increase learning. Look for common things in each failure that are missing in each success. Realize that the strategic planning process is built on speculation and is a matter of one subjective estimate versus another.
  • Move an idea through the organization: Manage your new idea through to implementation. You may need the assistance of a consultant or a team to do this. Be willing to put forth effort in order to learn how to be strategic (take a course, get a tutor).
  • Deal with the politics and employ the strategy: Recognize that the path your innovation must travel through your organization to reach implementation is a maze. Plan the route with consideration of the organization's structure. Realize that strategic plans lead to choices about resources, deployment, staffing actions, and financial plans.
  • Become a student of innovation and strategic thinking: Consider how innovations outside of your organization have come about. Broaden your perspective and learn a little about other things. Study the discipline of strategic planning and learn the language to be more effective in planning sessions.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Launch a new project, procedure, or curriculum.
  • Relaunch an existing project or procedure that is not going well.
  • Manage a temporary group of resisting people in an unpopular change or project.
  • Assemble a team of diverse people to accomplish a difficult task.
  • Work on a project that involves travel and the study of an issue.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Regularly read relevant publications.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Be a student of others. Study their behavior and what's effective and ineffective. Adapt what you learn to improve yourself.
    • Learn from those in authority. Distance yourself from your feelings and analyze what they do (and do not do) well. Choose to imitate the successful behavior.
    • Learn by observing others. Objectively study what they do.
    • Learn from remote models. Read a book or an article about someone and observe what they do or don't do well.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than the whole person.
    • Learn from interviewing others. Ask what, how, and why they do what they do, where they learned it, and how they keep it current and relative.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Take a strategic course. Stretch your thinking to prepare for and to anticipate future challenges.
    • Take a survey course designed to give a general overview of an area of interest.
    • Participate in orientation events that communicate the strategies, mission, and goals of your organization.

Recommended readings

  • Bandrowski, James F.Corporate Imagination Plus—Five Steps to Translating Innovative Strategies into Action.New York: The Free Press, 2000.
  • Brown, Steve, et al.Strategic Operations Management.Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000.
  • Chakravorti, Bhaskar.The Slow Pace of Fast Change: Bringing Innovations to Market in a Connected World.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
  • Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor.The Innovator’s Solution.Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
  • Charan, Ram, and Noel M. Tichy.Every Business is a Growth Business: How Your Company Can Prosper Year After Year.New York: Times Business, 1998.
  • Collins, James C.Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t.New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • Courtney, Hugh.20/20 Foresight: Crafting Strategy in an Uncertain World.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001.
  • Cusumano, Michael A., and Constaninos C. Markides.Strategic Thinking for the Next Economy.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2001.
  • Drucker, Peter Ferdinand.Management Challenges for the 21stCentury.New York: HarperBusiness, 2001.
  • Dudik, Evan Matthew.Strategic Renaissance: New Thinking and Innovative Tools to Create Great Corporate Strategies Using Insights from History and Science.New York: AMACOM, 2000.
  • Dundon, Elaine.The Seeds of Innovation: Cultivating the Synergy That Fosters New Ideas.New York: AMACOM, 2002.
  • Fine, Charles H.Speed—Winning Industry Control in the Age of Temporary Advantage.Reading, MA: Perseus Books, 1998.
  • Freedman, Mike, and Benjamin B. Tregoe.The Art and Discipline of Strategic Leadership.New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2003.
  • The Futurist Magazine.
  • Gaynor, Gerard H.Innovation by Design.New York: AMACOM, 2002.
  • Goldenberg, Jacob, and David Mazursky.Creativity in Product Innovation.New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Hamel, Gary.Leading the Revolution.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000.
  • Hamel, Gary, and C.K. Prahalad.Competing for the Future.Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1994.
  • Hargadon, Andrew, and Kathlee M. Eisenhardt.How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
  • Harvard Business Review.Phone: 800-988-0886 (U.S. and Canada). Fax: 617-496-1029. Mail: Harvard Business Review. Subscriber Services, P.O. Box 52623. Boulder, CO 80322-2623 USA.
  • Kanter, Rosabeth Moss, John Kao, and Fred Wiersema, (Eds.).Innovation: Breakthrough Thinking at 3M, DuPont, GE, Pfizer and Rubbermaid.New York: Harper Business 1997.
  • Kaplan, Robert S., and David P. Norton.The Strategy-Focused Organization: How Balanced Scorecard Companies Thrive in the New Business Environment.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000.
  • Kemper, Steve.Code Name Ginger: The Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen’s Quest to Invent a New World.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
  • Kidder, Tracy.The Soul of a New Machine.New York: Back Bay Books, 2000
  • Kotler, Philip, and Fernando Trias des Bes.Lateral Marketing.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.
  • Krames, Jeffrey A.What the Best CEOs Know: 7 Exceptional Leaders and Their Lessons for Transforming Any Business.New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2003.
  • Ohmae, Kenichi.The Mind of the Strategist.New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1982.
  • Peters, Tom.The Circle of Innovation—You Can’t Shrink Your Way to Greatness.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1997.
  • Pietersen, Willie.Reinventing Strategy; Using Strategic Learning to Create and Sustain Breakthrough Performance.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.
  • Porter, Michael E.Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors.New York: Free Press, 1998.
  • Porter, Michael E.On Competition.Boston: Harvard Business, 1998.
  • Prahalad, C.K., and Venkat Ramaswamy.The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
  • Sadler, Philip.Strategic Management.London: Kogan Page, 2003.
  • Sloan Management Review. Cambridge, MA: Industrial Management Review Association at the Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Sull, Donald.Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad and How Great Managers Remake Them.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
  • Sutton, Robert I.Weird Ideas That Work.New York: The Free Press, 2001.
  • Swinton, Ernest Dunlop.The Defense of Duffer’s Drift.Washington, DC: U.S. Marine Corps, 1996.
  • Tapscott, Don, and David Ticoll.The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business.New York: The Free Press, 2003.
  • Tucker, Robert B.Driving Growth Through Innovation: How Leading Firms Are Transforming Their Futures.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2002.
  • Tushman, Michael L., and Charles A. O’Reilly, III.Winning through Innovation: A Practical Guide to Leading Organizational Change and Renewal.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
  • Wellborn, Ralph, and Vince Kasten.The Jericho Principle: How Companies Use Strategic Collaboration to Find New Sources of Value.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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