Advancing a culture of innovation: A view from the top

ASU leaders on how culture, innovation can drive the future of the New American University

From left: ASU President Michael Crow, Minu Ipe, senior knowledge enterprise architect and senior fellow of leadership and institutional design, Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick and Christine Whitney Sanchez, chief culture officer of the University Technology Office.


Picture it: The year is 2025 and Arizona State University is the leading Fifth Wave University, seamlessly blending culture and innovation through research, teaching and learning. Inclusivity, engagement and service drive the work of faculty, staff, students and community partners.

How do we attain this lofty vision? 

Leaders from ASU tackled this very question during “Innovation and Culture, a Discussion” at ASU’s inaugural Innovation Quarter.

ASU President Michael Crow, Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick and Minu Ipe, senior knowledge enterprise architect and senior fellow of leadership and institutional design, discussed the linkage between culture and innovation as guiding forces driving the future of the New American University.

The following are their thoughts about key aspects of the role culture plays at ASU, as moderated by Christine Whitney Sanchez, chief culture officer of the University Technology Office.  

Symbiosis of culture and innovation

U.S. News & World Report rated ASU as “No. 1 in Innovation” for six years in a row. What does that mean, and how did that honor come to be? 

Key takeaways:

Crow: Culture and innovation are the inseparable, enabling forces of the ASU Charter forming the “why, what and how” of all we do. Our “why” is grounded in the inclusivity of our cultural aspiration. The “what” is design-based management that makes culture happen. And the “how” is the advancement in technology that changes the paradigms of learning. 

Gonick: The ASU Charter is the North Star of UTO’s initiatives. As UTO “breaks down and reassembles the DNA of a classic enterprise knowledge organization … (we) preposition ourselves to meld together our culture and our commitment to innovation to anticipate the needs of the university moving forward.”  

Ipe: There are three essential elements in order for innovation to be “baked into the DNA”. Innovation can come from one person, but a culture of innovation and design “creates openness to change and adaptation ... supports institutional resiliency ... and values inclusion and diversity.”

Culture and the Fifth Wave University

Through its Charter, ASU is leading the “Fifth Wave” of American universities where access and excellence coexist in research and service. What role does culture play in crafting our vanguard position?    

Key takeaways:

President Crow: “ASU is the prototype for the Fifth Wave which is a scalable, technology-driven, adaptable national-service university.” ASU’s culture grounds us in focusing on the success of the entire community, constantly innovating technology and design that is “student-driven, learner-driven, community-driven.”

Gonick: Technology accelerates the Fifth Wave through collaborative platforms and social media. In an age without the editorial oversight of traditional media, ASU can and must create a more learner-centered future rather than an elite, top-down approach of previous “waves.” This will enable us to avoid societal dysfunctionality and contradictions. 

Ipe: Infusing culture throughout the university is a natural extension of the ways in which we “democratize innovation.” It means that we must “cleave together the capabilities for culture that didn’t exist before” and underscore the importance of design. “Design implies intentionality … (we cannot) disassociate our culture from notions design because we’ve been doing it for so long."

ASU in the year 2025

2025 is right around the corner. How is ASU shaping the future today?  

Key takeaways:

Crow: Looking at ourselves with a critical eye, we must raise “self-awareness about how we’ve contributed to problems of inequality and social injustice.” By engaging with the community, every member of the ASU family is committed to the vision and remaining at the university for their career. We empower individual designers because we “can’t change behavior (and) outcomes without changing design ... we must affect the future rather than accept it.”

Ipe: Echoing Crow, “we’re not just No. 1 in innovation, but No. 1 as a place for people to work.” In addition, each student has an “eye-opening experience” where they realize their potential and eventually lead global change. We collectively make this happen through “our intentionality to be unique and offer insights to other institutions.” This intentionality builds individuals’ and units’ capacities while we embed innovation into our DNA. “Our culture is ready to accelerate.”

Gonick: The post-COVID era will allow ASU to reinvent the ways in which we work as we adapt with agility and come out stronger. We cannot “reset to go back to a pre-COVID era but (rather imagine) how we create a glide path to very positive outcomes.” Inspired by Crow’s vision and working with him as thought partners, we must “continuously grow as technology professionals to help fulfill the vision (and) empower others.”

To view the complete keynote and hear other sessions from Innovation Quarter, enroll in the Canvas course.

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