Recognising that innovation and creativity are the key drivers of the Twenty-First Century global economy, Irena has developed a suite of programs designed to assist leaders and organisations to increase their innovation capacity by developing a culture of innovation and creative leadership.
As one of Australia’s leading experts in Innovation, creativity and leadership, Dr. Irena inspires audiences to shift their thinking about how to succeed in the Innovation Age. She has delivered presentations around the world at many different kinds of events and to vastly different kinds of audiences. The unifying driving force of her work is the liberation of human potential that too often languishes within organisations.
Dr. Irena is the author of Leading in the Innovation Age, which is a handbook to help leaders navigate the new VUCA (volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous) world in which we live. Apart from that she has co-authored six books, numerous academic journal articles, white papers, ebooks and case studies.
Dr. Irena has a rare combination of deep academic knowledge and real-world entrepreneurial experience. Dr. Irena has been doing creativity and innovation since before they became universal workplace imperatives. She began her research in this field 25 years ago with a PhD in complex creative problem-solving and a Master’s degree in Adult Education. As such she is well placed to help leaders develop effective approaches to innovation and creative leadership.
A committed lifelong learner, Dr. Irena practices what she preaches constantly updating her knowledge and skills. This means that organisations that work with her have the benefit of cutting edge information, intel and insights about leadership, innovation and creativity to place them on the leading edge of a fast changing world.
Dr. Irena is a liberator. She is on a mission to liberate innovation, creativity and leadership within people and organisations. Innovation is unleashed when organisations are liberated from entrenched practices and out-dated processes.
Creativity is unleashed when people are liberated from the mental shackles of default thinking and rigid mental models. Leadership is unleashed when individuals are liberated from constraints that stifle initiative and talent.
She thrives on demystifying, enabling and facilitating innovation and creativity and is skilled at unlocking the enormous human potential that languishes within most leaders and organisations.
Clients say that working with Dr. Irena is ‘catalytic’ because they are able to achieve outcomes they never thought possible. They describe her as professional, inclusive, intuitive and engaging with a passion for her work that is contagious. Clients consistently describe their experience of working with Dr. Irena as being empowering, enlightening, and fun. They appreciate the way she listens carefully to their brief and masterfully adapts and designs her programs to their needs and contexts.
The diversity of sectors that Dr. Irena has worked is exceptional. Academia, schools, government at all levels (federal, state and local), government owned corporations, corporate, not-for-profit, community, small business and manufacturing. Her expertise and experience was recognized by the Commonwealth Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research who awarded her a series of major competitive grants to work nationally with Australian businesses helping them to become more globally competitive through innovation.
Dr. Irena’s Professional Highlights Include:
- Founder and CEO of the Global Intrapreneurs Institute.
- Founder and organiser of the Australian Intrapreneurs Summit Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.
- Editor-in-Chief of Intrapreneur Magazine.
- Invited guest to the World Science Forum 2019 in Budapest hosted by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences World Science Forum themed ‘Science Ethics and Responsibility’ and 2017 at the Dead Sea hosted by the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan with the theme of ‘Science for Peace’.
- Advisory Board Member Department of Business Strategy and Innovation Griffith University
- Author of Intrapreneur: How leaders break bureaucracy, ignite innovation and catalyse change AND Leading in the Innovation Age: Unleash knowledge talent and experience to create an innovative workplace. As well as multiple other publications.
- Awarded competitive Commonwealth Government Grants for three years in a row by Enterprise Connect to run innovation workshops for businesses around Australia and throughout regional Queensland on the themes of Innovating to Compete in a Global Economy and Innovation for Growth and Profit.
- Judge for a number of prestigious industry and academic awards such as Griffith University’s inaugural Innovation Challenge for $10,000 seed funding for a start-up; and the Australian Institute of Management’s Outstanding Leader
- Adjunct Research Fellow at the Institute for Learning and Work Research. Griffith University.
- Senior Research Fellow on the Workplace Learning Project School of Humanities. Griffith University.
- Awarded the designation of Certified Speaking Professional which is the pinnacle of achievement in the global speaking industry. There are fewer than 600 CSPs in the world who represent the top echelon of globally recognised professional speakers.
Dr. Irena’s International Speaking Highlights Include:
- Opening keynote for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region Public Sector Innovation Conference organised by the King Abdullah 2nd Centre for Excellence (KACE). Amman Jordan.
- Invited by King Abdullah 2nd Centre for Excellence in Amman Jordan to teach Innovation Skills in the Public Sector for senior leaders in the Jordanian government.
- Invited expert at the Public Sector Reform Best Practice conference Kuala Lumpur organised by the National Institute of Public Administration Malaysia.
- Leadership development with 3M’s emerging Asia Pacific leaders in Singapore and Philippines.
- Invited by National Economic Advisory Council of Malaysia to teach Innovation and creativity in Sarawak.
- Invited by Rajagiri College of Social Sciences Kerala, India, to teach creative problem-solving to students and faculty.
- Keynote presentation at the PSAN conference Windhoek, Namibia.
- Teaching Innovation Skills for the Public Sector at Malaysian University of Technology (UTM).
- Teaching graduate students at the Jaipur Institute of Management India, about Future Skills.
- Graduating class 2020 from the Creating Intrapreneurs Program at the Office of Industrial Relations. (February. Before Covid-19 changed our workplaces forever).
- Graduating class 2019 of the Nurse Unit Managers at QE2 Hospital Brisbane at the end of our 5 month Leading in the Innovation Age mentoring program. They did some TRULY AMAZING work as innovative leaders in healthcare!
- Graduating class of the 2019 Human Helium intrapreneurialism program at 3M Sydney. The estimated value of the work delivered by the program participants (intrapreneurs) was calculated to be over $1,000,000.
- Graduating class 2019 from the Creating Intrapreneurs Program Department of Transport and Main Roads.
I knew from a young age that I was destined to be an educator. I had gone on a holiday with my mother to a rural town where her cousin was a primary school principal. On our first day there, he proudly took us on a tour of the school. As we walked past one of the classrooms I noticed that the year 2 students were quietly writing in their books (back in the day when they sat in neat rows facing the front) but there was no teacher in the room. I let the adults walk on and slipped back to the teacherless room, walked in rather boldly and proceeded to teach the class. I was 6 years old!
Embarking On A Life Devoted To Education
After graduating as a high school maths and science teacher, my first posting was to a regional school – my ‘country service’ which all beginning teachers had to do. I loved it. Very steep learning curve! (I nearly knocked out all the students, and myself, in a Grade 9 science class one day trying to put a toad to sleep using ether – so I could perform the mandated dissection).
I taught for a couple of years and then did what so many young, adventurous Australians do as a ‘rite of passage’. Bought a one way ticket to London and went off to explore the world for a couple of years. By the time I returned, I was very much a ‘global citizen’ with a deep appreciation of the amazing diversity of our wonderful world.
I immediately went back to teaching – but it was teaching with a difference. Although I was a maths science teacher I ended up teaching French, English and Art. I had interests in those areas and loved the challenge of diving into other disciplines. At the same time I also enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland and enjoyed exploring a wide range of topics from languages, art history, philosophy, drama and literature. It was my hobby – and set the tone for the rest of my life as a polymath and life-long learner.
The Next Incarnation
I transitioned from teaching at schools to teaching at Griffith University in the Education faculty and the Arts Faculty after completing a Master of Adult Education and while doing a PhD in creative problem-solving. I began investigating creativity because I was fascinated with the concept. I wanted to be able to understand what it was that made some people more creative than others: how did creative thinkers develop their skills; where did this elusive quality stem from; were you just born creative, or could you learn to be creative; and most importantly… how could someone become more creative if they wanted to? That seven years of research culminated in a PhD thesis entitled ‘A cognitive model for understanding creative thinking’ which informs and underpins much of the work I do today in the area of creative problem-solving.
During my time at Griffith University I was also fortunate enough to also work on a number of very interesting research projects such as the Griffith Graduate Project and the Workplace Learning Project. Both of them focused on helping graduates develop and utilise transferable skills. I was (and still am) acutely interested in how we repurpose knowledge and understanding for transfer into different contexts and to different kinds of problems. Interestingly the ability to do this is even more important today than it was over fifteen years ago when I was researching in this field. Today mental flexibility and knowledge adaptation is a hallmark of successful leaders.
After ten years in this environment I had an overwhelming urge to step out of formal institutions to start my own business which is exactly what I did.
Then it was time to learn a whole new skill set! That of an ENTREPRENEUR.
The Early Years In Business
Why do all the stories of start-ups begin in a garage? Mine did. That is where I first set up my office and even ran workshops there in the early days.
Starting a business was a huge leap of faith for me. I had always worked in large educational institutions – suddenly I was a business entrepreneur, operating on my own, with no regular income. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I had tumbled head-first down the rabbit hole to emerge in a world in which everything operated under different rules – a parallel universe, an alternate reality. Every day was a steep learning curve. Very quickly I had to change from writing academic content to creating sales and marketing copy. And I SO had to GET OVER the self-consciousness of self-promotion!
Yet amidst all that change and uncertainty, I also felt tremendously empowered. Perhaps it was the liberation of seizing the opportunity to live my passion – every day! Of being free to mix and match and experiment with ideas in whatever combination I wanted. Of being able to move across all sectors – government, corporate, SME, NFP, associations; being able to work with a very diverse cross section of people – and from all around the world.
I was an avid public speaker – I really loved it. It was my version of extreme sports. Over time, opportunities to speak and deliver programs opened up all around Australia and around the world which took me to many wonderful places to meet many wonderful people.
My mission and purpose in business became crystal clear. To be a LIBERATOR of innovation, creativity and intrapreneurialism. Innovation is unleashed when organisations are liberated from entrenched practices and out-dated processes. Creativity is unleashed when people are liberated from the mental shackles of default thinking and rigid mental models. Intrapreneurialism is unleashed when individuals are liberated from constraints that stifle initiative and talent.
A Pivotal Year Of Change
2018 proved to be a watershed year. It began with the publication of my book Intrapreneur: How leaders ignite innovation, break bureaucracy and catalyse change. I had authored and co-authored numerous publications over the years – but for some reason this book seems to have really struck a chord with people above all the others. Intrapreneurs from all around the world started reaching out to me to say that they saw themselves within the pages and within the stories I had shared. They now had a lexicon and a language with which to talk about their experiences. They now knew what to call themselves – INTRAPRENEURS, who are the ‘dreamers who do’. Change makers with an enterprising spirit who see innovation opportunities all around them and take action to positively shape the future of their organisation.
Others who were consultants and trainers contacted me to say that they loved the central models and asked if there was a training program that went with the book. Intrapreneurialism, it seemed to me, was an idea whose time had come. As a concept, it had been around since the late 70s when Gifford Pinchot the 3rd coined the term in his seminal work Intrapreneuring: Why you don’t have to leave the corporation to become an entrepreneur. An innovation-hungry world combined with a growing awareness that it is PEOPLE who drive innovation, was finally making intrapreneurialism a mainstream activity. It was becoming a powerful global movement.
By the end of 2018 I had set in motion plans to launch two other related ventures in early 2019 which would help build momentum around this new wave sweeping the world of work.
- Intrapreneur Magazine is a quarterly digital publication that quickly went global. It brings together stories from key influencers, thought leaders and inspiring intrapreneurs who are using their creativity, drive and entrepreneurial spirit to change their corner of the world.
- The Australian Intrapreneurs Summit in Brisbane, Australia, is a national conference dedicated to educating, supporting and inspiring intrapreneurs from EVERY sector. The inaugural event in March 2019 at the Brisbane Convention and Entertainment Centre was a sell out success. And the 2020 Summit in March became the first major national conference to pivot into a virtual format due to the restrictions imposed by the corona virus pandemic. You can see what happened behind the scenes here.
The Story Continues
2020 is the year that is changing EVERYTHING. We are all learning to do differently, think differently and problem-solve in new ways as a result of the extraordinary circumstances precipitated by Covid-19.
I have transitioned my services to on-line and virtual. It wasn’t a huge leap as I have been operating in a hybrid model for many years using a flipped classroom approach in my programs. Consequently many of my resources were already in virtual format.
The BIG news is the launch of the Global Intrapreneurs Institute. Do check out the website. It is an on-line educational institution committed to supporting and advancing the work of intrapreneurs in all corners of the world through learning and development and a supportive community. If you are an intrapreneur – then come join us and find your tribe and help write the next part of the story.
“I love effective processes, so I love the structure that Dr. Irena Yashin-Shaw provides for influencing and implementing innovation and change through intrapreneurialism.”
W. Boulton. Manager. Department of Housing and Public Works
“Thank you for a great ‘Creating Intrapreneurs in the Public Sector’ program. It gave me back self-belief and confidence that I do have good ideas. I was almost at a point of giving up and becoming the type of public servant that people always joke about – but I now have an enthusiasm and focus that I haven’t had in a while. Thank you.”
Qld Gov Employee
“I found Irena inspiring and practical to work with – she engendered new ways of igniting creativity and critical thinking. I find that I delve into the toolkit regularly.”
J. Hedger. Director. Business Engagement. DSITI
“Dr. Irena’s Human Helium program has unique content and fabulous delivery with real life examples. I would highly recommend it not only for budding leaders but also seasoned ones as it helps to nourish the ‘Intrapreneur’ concept within the organisation.”
P. Gaikwad, Product Manager Medical Solutions Division. 3M. Sydney.
“The content of the Human Helium Program is very high quality and well sequenced providing an in-depth understanding of intrapreneurialism. Everyone in the organisation has a unique contribution to make. They should be respected for their ideas and actively encouraged to pioneer them. The Human Helium Program was a valuable learning experience.”
Michelle Odayan. Scientific Affairs & Education. 3M
“We engaged Dr Irena Yashin-Shaw to assist us to develop our leaders and sustain a culture of innovation in QCT. Dr Yashin-Shaw delivered a program over a 9-month period that consisted of a variety of components which included data collections, workshops, seminars, on-line tools and resources and a series of relevant tasks and projects to build momentum for change across the organisation. The quality of Dr Yashin-Shaw’s work was exceptional. She is an engaging facilitator who ensured that everyone contributed to the issues identified. She has extensive knowledge and understanding of leadership and innovation and how to create an environment within an organisation for innovation to thrive. Not only did the participants find the workshops informative, they also found them fun. There were immediate benefits for the QCT from Dr Yashin-Shaw’s work. The benefits included enhanced communication and relationships across the organisation with much greater willingness of staff to contribute ideas and participate in making change happen; thinking differently about the challenges facing the QCT; increased confidence of staff in calculated risk taking and an increased capacity of staff to use different tools and process to develop options for innovative solutions. Processes were put in place to ensure the longevity of the program and that the momentum is sustained. Participants of the workshops enjoyed Dr Yashin-Shaw’s warm personality and her willingness to ensure their needs were met.”
John Ryan. Director. Queensland College of Teachers
“Dr. Irena’s Innovation Skills for the Public Sector Program in Cairns was extremely relevant and timely and was presented in a way which contributed to interesting and focused discussions and exchanges between the participants. It was well paced allowing time for participants to share experiences and ask questions. I enjoyed the whole experience, it enabled me to recognize those things that I am already doing and encouraged me to continue my involvement in the exploration of new possibilities in order to drive departmental renewal”.
W. Kruger. Department of Justice and Attorney General (QLD. Cairns)
“Dr Irena was the key note speaker for our North Queensland Region Technical forum themed Unleashing Potential. Dr Irena was the ideal person to create the right tone for the forum delegates and to warm our delegates up for the two-day program. Her powerful and highly effective delivery style was one of the forum highlights. She captivated delegates with her presence by inviting audience engagement in the highly participative and interactive learning journey. Irena provided insight to the delegates on a range of practical tools and techniques on innovative thinking, and equipped our leaders with the skills that enables them to create a more innovative, high performing workplaces. I would highly recommend Dr Irena to any organisation that is seeking to unleash the hidden potential of their employees by allowing them to explore creativity that feeds innovation, and improves organisational performance.”
A. Cullen. Executive Director RoadTek. Department of Transport and Main Roads