Chief Innovation Officer

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The Case for Chief Innovation Officer

Innovation is essential strategy for most businesses. But remarkably, companies find it hard to do innovation well. Enter the Chief Executive Officer (CINO).  More than a decade ago the role was non-existent. Today, surveys indicate more than 60% of companies have a designated Chief Innovation Officers. Demand has grown as companies discover just how hard innovation is to do well.

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Innovating Chief Innovation Officer

Companies have experimented with how best innovate. Some companies tried giving multiple teams a mandate to innovate. Yet the teams competed for resources and duplicated each other’s efforts. Other companies simply added innovation to the responsibilities of their senior leaders. But those executives focused more on what they were doing rather than on what they could be doing differently. Experiments in innovation returned the same result. To innovate well, you need a dedicated innovation leader.

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Alessandro Di Fiore describes A Chief Innovation Officer’s Actual Responsibilities in The Harvard Business Review. Drawing on research from his role as Founder and CEO of the European Centre for Strategic Innovations, he explains there are seven key roles in the CIO’s mission:

  1. Supporting best practices.
  2. Developing skills.
  3. Supporting business units in new product and service initiatives.
  4. Identifying new market spaces.
  5. Helping people generate ideas.
  6. Directing seed funding.
  7. Designing shelter for promising projects.

Another Harvard Business Review article speaks to What It Really Means to Be a Chief Innovation Officer. Author Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg writes a growing number of companies have Chief Innovation Officers or similar — in excess of 40%. In studying Chief Innovation Officers, he learned successful innovation leaders do two things.

“First of all, they are adamant about measuring their real-world impact, even though this is much more difficult than using process metrics like “ideas generated” or something similar. Secondly, they do not commit to those metrics at once, or accept external ones. Rather, they start by creating flexibility in their role — often taking a year or longer  to do so, which means that they have time to define their own metrics for success.”

To be successful, Chief Innovation Officers need time to innovate and to measure what they invent.

“In sum: If you are going to take an innovation job, make sure to buy yourself some time, and then, use that time to make sure you make a difference.”