Tesco’s culture has been changing, creating a new environment in which "we can behave our way to create more innovation", he said this week at the annual IGD grocery convention.
"At Tesco, that has been the first half of the journey for us, to start to re-imagine and create a culture that encourages people to bring forward their ideas and to not fear.
"Our plan in the business is very clear. We are embracing that world. Tesco is changing and we’re excited about the change."
Atkinson said it was essential to establish what a company’s culture was: whether it was more cat or more dog?
To illustrate his point, he showed the audience two videos:
Is your culture more dog?
Or more cat?
"Does your business embrace culture and celebrate, reward and encourage inventiveness, creativity and innovation? Or are you like the cat pushing your children down the stairs?" he asked.
Are you like the cat pushing your children down the stairs?
Tesco employs a simple innovation model, called "foresight, insight, action". The trap most companies fall into, he explained, was wanting to jump to the action planning too quickly when they needed to spend longer at the foresight stage.
Atkinson said the reason Tesco was sponsoring entrepreneurial tech hub Rainmaker Loft, based in London, was down to the search for true disruptive innovation.
"Gazing into the future isn’t about predicting the reality of the next 10 years. To my mind that would be a pointless exercise. We’re looking to work with businesses like [Rainmaker Loft] to dream up new ways of making life better for consumers and communities."
He added: "I think this period of time we’re in is one of the most turbulent in history. But all the challenges coupled with global technology and organisational transformation, point to a decade of new growth, new innovation and new opportunities. For us it is, of course, about capitalising on those, so we can prosper and make a difference to everyone in this new world."
In future, Atkinson predicts we will see more "people doing business with people, doing business collaboratively with each other, sharing things, joining up their missions, buying things together".
This new connected economy would be powered by technology, he said, citing airbnb.co.uk as an example of "social hospitality".
Atkinson also highlighted a new online service in the Netherlands, shareyourmeal.net, as an example of "collaborative problem solving". The website allows people to buy their meal from someone else who is cooking a meal in a nearby neighbourhood.
By 2023 everyone under the age of 27 in our businesses will be a digital native.
"Consumers are using technology to solve problems, collaborating in new ways and challenging some of the status quo," said Atkinson.
Leaving the audience with a final thought, Atkinson pointed out that by 2023 everyone under the age of 27 in businesses will be a digital native. "No one quite knows how these digital natives will behave or what they will do to interact with our business."