There is, or should be, a distinction between adaption and agility. Adaption – minor change - can be seen as an entire range of small changes that you undertake to increase effectiveness and/or efficiency, from substituting one piece of equipment for another (or using bailing wire and bubblegum to fix something) through to adjusting tactical and even operational methods. It is the later which is of prime interest with respect to agility, this being a mindset (or intellectual outlook) that allows, as Rob says, to better and more quickly identify changes in the environment and exploit the opportunities that occur as a result or at least adjust to minimize the adverse consequences. An example that Rob and I discussed was the mental agility to recognize and seize appropriately the opportunity afforded by some Sunni insurgent groups turning against al Qaeda in Iraq (Cavguy – I think it was he - and Kilcullen have both discussed this on SWB) and then adaptation was to be able to transfer the basic model to other areas while adjusting the model appropriately to fit the local situation and circumstances (and yes, recognizing different circumstances and adjusting the model falls under agility as well). So, another, and perhaps better, way to think about the difference between adaptability and agility is that adaptation is the ability to react to obvious change and/or problem, while agility is the capacity to discern change and, more important, its implications, so that you are able to anticipate and act in an anticipatory manner (preferably appropriately). Rob’s boxer analogy captures this.
Turning to innovation, methinks my beers’ explanation was only partial. So allow me to elaborate. Innovation, as I as an academic define it, is major change in aims, strategies (ways of warfare), and/or structure. As an example, institutionalizing maneuver warfare is a major change (operational way of warfare), and as such has implications for the other two main aspects noted earlier as well as throughout an organization and for resources. (So, I would guess that davidfpo's obervation about change in LE would in my definition be 'adaptation')
Where my beer probably mis-explained was in the context of what Rob and I were talking about – institutionalizing IW or Complex IW (or hybrid warfare, if you will – a mix of conventional and unconventional [ie, Hezbollah, summer 2006]) as a core competency of the US military (or specific services, if you prefer). A key element of developing a CIW competency, for the US military (and I concur with this) is agility and adaptability. So, in the context of this, Rob’s observation ‘“Innovation” as the steps taken to create and sustain the broader climate or atmosphere in which “Adaptation” takes place’ is correct, as ‘part’ of institutionalizing CIW. The effort to implement and institutionalize CIW will, in part, involve creating and sustaining a broader climate or atmosphere (or to be academic, organizational culture) through persuasion (narratives), education and training (behavior), in which mental agility can be fostered, and to the degree that it is fostered this will improve adaptability. Fostering improved mental agility and/or agility in and of itself would not constitute major change or innovation, even though it would be organizationally very useful, rather in the context of Rob’s and my conversation it is an important component of implementing CIW which would be a major change or innovation.
Of course, fostering agility is not easy (agility takes experience, education, training, and so on and so forth), and nor should we expect that every enlisted, NCO and/or officer will be agile, for human nature is such that some people tend to be more mentally agile than others. It seems to me that to develop agility you need to start right in enlisted and officer ‘boot camp’, whereas my limited, ‘book based’, understanding of ‘boot camp’ is that part of the training /socialization process is to inculcate ‘obedience to command’ (among a host of other attributes), which I suspect works to rigidify thinking (but I am guessing on this observation). How one balances a desire for mental agility with the necessity of ‘obedience to command’ is beyond my competence and I leave this to the psychologists and sociologists (and anthropologists? and ?) to mull over.