Since you should align your culture, organization and operations around one of four strategies, it’s helpful to flesh out what the four different cultures mean. This article digs into a culture of independence in support of a design strategy. It’s all about unleashing individual creativity and invention.

We know culture is the only sustainable advantage. The following framework for aligning culture and strategy was discussed in more depth in my articles on aligning strategy and culture and why most CEOs are not strategic personally.



Main components:

Strategy: Design/invent, Produce/Manufacture, Deliver/Product Supply/Logistics, Service/Customer Experience.


  • Independent (and flexible, with emphasis on learning and enjoyment)
  • Stable (and independent, with emphasis on results and authority)
  • Interdependent (and stable, with emphasis on order and safety)
  • Flexible (and interdependent, with emphasis on purpose and caring.)

Organization: Specialized, hierarchy, matrix, decentralized

Operations: Freeing support, command & control, shared responsibility, guided accountability.

CEO: Enable, Enforce, Enroll, champion Experience.

In “The Culture Factor” Boris Groysberg et al suggests eight primary cultural styles (learning, enjoyment, results, authority, order, safety, purpose and caring) that fall on the two dimensions of flexibility – stability and independence – interdependence. It’s a helpful construct that benefits from a fleshing out across the BRAVE dimensions of behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and the environment.


A culture of independence is on the outer edge of every BRAVE dimension. In every case it is more open, diffused, caring, flexible, informal and casual. Expect people operating in a culture like this to care about learning and enjoyment, to be proactive and driven by their own interpretation of the intended purpose. These people will be hard to control – which is exactly what you want.

Build a culture like this to unleash creativity and invention – the first step in innovation. Innovation is the introduction of something new. You need to be innovative to stay ahead of the curve whether your primary strategy is design, production, delivery or service. If you choose one of the latter three strategies, you may outsource your design and invention. In any case you can do a better job introducing new things with the Five Keys to BRAVE Innovation:

  1. Environment/Where to play: Establish a shared definition of innovation for your organization.
  2. Values/What matters and why: Aim innovation at business concepts and models.
  3. Attitude/How to win: Valuable innovation is born of new, frame-breaking insights that light the way.
  4. Relationships/How to connect: Learn by doing with discipline across your innovation system.
  5. Behaviors/What impact: Drive an end-to-end process through to commercialization.


This culture is labeled “Independence.” In this case it’s not an over-simplification. Certainly all cultures are blends of many different elements. Certainly some people in organizations with cultures like this will and must work interdependently. While most people in these organizations will have a bias to flexibility over stability, some things must be stable and reliable. But the over-riding, most important dimension is independence because the sparks of invention are inherently individual. Inventing requires freeing individuals.

Not only is each person in a culture of independence going to behave individualistically, but there is no overall formula for the ideal independent culture. Organizations may vary their cultural preferences on scales like work-focused versus more work-life balance or formal versus informal communication or how they learn.


The one thing that probably should not vary is attention to purpose. CEO Tim Cook and all at Apple are clear they are “trying to change the world for the better.” They care about products and people, about inventing products that help people do things they could not have done before, about infusing products with a humanity that others have never done. Their purpose is their ultimate guiding principles.

Apple’s Cook sees himself as their chief enablement officer. His job is to lead the efforts to provide freeing support to Apple’s inventors. As he says over and over again, his job is “to block the noise from the people who are really doing the work” – the designers and inventors.