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Is it time to hire a Chief Innovation Officer?

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Barnaby Parker awards, Agile, Recruitment outsourcing...

When Margaret Hefferman said “For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate” She forgot to add the requirement for a Chief Innovation Officer (CINO)… 

In my view the question isn’t whether you need a Chief Innovation Officer or not… it's what type you should have, how many and whether they need the job title.  

Judging by the incumbents their backgrounds could be Investor, Researcher, Automator, Evangelist, Reformer, Detective or a host of others (perhaps reminiscent of a Cluedo board?). 

It's also possible that you can squeeze innovation onto the CTO’s job spec, but is it even a technology or something else altogether? The CINO you employ should at least be able to frame that question and many more…. 

But successful innovation goes further than asking the right questions, it's about creativity, imagination, clarity and even chaos. The focus is making sense of a mass of complex and conflicting information and betting on the right horse. 

Look at your peers. Which other companies have a CINO? Over 50% of the S&P 500 do. You might say all the ones that want to innovate. You’d be wrong.  

Google, Netflix and Microsoft don’t employ one though they have a few leaders who are “future-focused, obsessed with innovation, differentiation and growth”.  

You could also ask how many chiefs a company actually has, as too many chiefs can spoil the broth.  

When innovation and agility are the aims the rigidity of job titles doesn’t help either. After all, if you have someone responsible for innovation does that relieve everyone else of the role of innovator? In the words of Tim Cook, 'as soon as a company has a Chief Innovation Officer you know that company has a problem'. 

We all know that innovation is essential, and it comes from any direction — customers, competitors, start-ups, labs, schools — and in many forms, from new markets to better business models to new technology. Ideally innovation would be on everyone’s job description, it is also a state of mind but in reality it usually requires someone to initiate and lead it.  

And so there is a requirement for a chief innovation officer, we might just call them something else! 

Whatever their name here are a few things we’d like them to do… 

  1. Scout for novel ideas and insights, encourage strategic innovation and encourage creative thinking. 

  1. Keep developing people’s mindsets and skillsets. Track improvements in innovation and identify the skills underpinning them. 

  1. Act as a facilitator for the most critical innovation teams across the company, supporting them in “raising the bar” of their aspirations. Training others to perform these roles also allows them to support innovation in business units. 

  1. Identify trends and market disruptions. Search for emerging new market opportunities. Be creative in nurturing them. 

  1. Helping people generate ideas. Setting up and running ideas generation platforms and formats like jam sessions, hackathons, and internal or external crowdsourcing for the benefit of the corporation. 

  1. Directing seed funding. Owning and allocating a yearly budget to fund “homeless ideas” that are either too risky for the business units, or outside their existing business boundaries, which might not otherwise get funded. This provides an organizational home to nourish and protect new ideas. 

  1. Take disruptive innovations forward from the seed stage to the market without getting killed on the way by managers who are invested in the status quo. 

  1. Act with freedom yourself and protect the other innovators! 

Feel free to reach out to Barnaby Parker directly if you’d like to discuss the role further….