By Albert Meige
An analysis with Google Trends on “Chief Innovation Officer” shows an increasing interest starting in 2010. The term was actually coined and described by Miller and Morris in 1998, but it seems to have only received interest in the past 4-5 years or so. While the Chief Innovation Officer’s function is becoming increasingly strategic, its description is still in its infancy and varies among companies. In the following we will see why the perimeter of the Chief Innovation Officer should be new territories. Not more. Not less.
This article is based on our book Innovation Intelligence (2015), written after interviewing dozens of Chief Innovation Officers and other C-level functions of large companies.
Chief Innovation Officer: a role in its infancy
The Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) and his team explore new territories by leveraging innovation intelligence, ideation, and experimentation. [source: Innovation Intelligence]The challenge for large companies is to be agile despite their size. A company is designed to have the best P&L. Therefore it is very good at incremental innovation. However, most of the time it sucks at disruptive innovation. The role of the CINO (Chief Innovation Officer) is to redefine what is possible for the company.
The role of the CINO is to drive innovation across the whole company, across the silos, across the functions, across the business units, across the geographical areas, and possibly beyond the company’s traditional borders. Ultimately, the CINO must ensure that innovation delivers business results. Because the CINO function is still emerging and every sector, company, and country is different, we do not pretend to provide here a detailed, comprehensive overview of all the functions of a Chief Innovation Officer. The following should not be taken as the grand truth on what a CINO should do in a company but rather as a common basis for the CINO role in most mature companies:
Role #1 – focus on business value: the purpose of the CINO is to identify disruptive threats and opportunities based on emerging trends. Innovation is business oriented, and so is the CINO. The CINO ensures that innovation initiatives are designed for business value creation. An innovation project should not be undertaken just because it is fashionable (nanotechnologies, drones, 3-D printing, and so forth). To ensure that innovation is focused on business value, the CINO is in charge of defining and monitoring the metrics of innovation performance.
Role #2 – defining language and changing culture: the first function of the CINO is to develop a culture of innovation in the company. To be able to create such a culture, the first key is language. A common language for innovation must be defined across the entire company. A shared language is essential, because it prevents potential conflicts, such as an employee asking, “What is the role the CINO? We already have a CTO.” In addition, once there is agreement on the definition of innovation (specifically, disruptive innovation), determining how to evaluate its performance becomes easier. Core-business innovation is generally a matter of executing the standard processes of the company, and adequate metrics already exist for measuring its performance. On the contrary, evaluating the performance of disruptive innovation, although it is driven by business, cannot be done with the traditional indicators. Once the common language has been agreed upon, another job of the CINO is communication. By communication, we mean both internal and external. Internal communication shapes the company culture. It is the only way to make the residents of the business silos aware that innovation can happen everywhere in the company. External communication can be a means to develop the innovative spirit of the company in such a way that it attracts creative talents and partners from horizons far away from the core business.