Time To Replace Your Chief Innovation Officer

Braden Kelley

My innovation peers and I have talked about how crucial executive commitment is, and some organizations have responded by hiring innovation managers, innovation directors, VPs of innovation, and chief innovation officers (CINOs, not CIOs, so there is no confusion with chief information officers).

One of the dangers of putting people in charge of innovation though, is that unless you carefully craft the positions and communicate their place and purpose across the organization, you can leave people feeling that innovation is not their job.

But, the reality is that everyone has a role to play in innovation, and in my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire (available at many local libraries), I outlined nine innovation roles that must be filled at the appropriate times for innovation to be successful. The Nine Innovation Roles™ include:

  1. Revolutionary
  2. Artist
  3. Conscript
  4. Connector
  5. Troubleshooter
  6. Customer champion
  7. Judge
  8. Magic maker
  9. Evangelist

It is because everyone has a role to play in innovation, and because everyone is innovative in their own way, that installing a chief innovation officer may not be the best idea.

Anytime you put someone in charge of something at that level of the organization, you end up with someone who thinks they are in charge of the area. And innovation is not something that you should seek to control, but instead to facilitate.

The idea that people are either innovative or not, and either possess the innovator’s DNA or they don’t, is complete poppycock (feel free to insert a stronger or more colorful word if you’d like, but I’ll try and keep it PG – for now).

Is there is any type of work more in need of a servant leader than the innovation efforts of the company?

So, if you fire your chief innovation officer, how are you going to make your organization more innovative?

The answer is to hire an innovation enablement leader.

The implication is that this person’s job will be to lead, not to manage, and to enable instead of control. The job of an innovation enablement leader is to facilitate the Seven C’s of a Successful Innovation Culture (working title):

  1. Cultivating a culture of curiosity
  2. Collection of inspiration and insight
  3. Connections
  4. Creation
  5. Collaboration
  6. Commercialization
  7. Communications

I’ll share more on the details of the Seven C’s of a Successful Innovation Culture in a future article.

Responsibility for innovation should remain with the business, under the innovation vision, strategy, and goals set by the CEO and senior leadership. The job of an innovation enablement leader (or innovation facilitator), meanwhile, is to serve the rest of the organization and to work across the organization to help remove barriers to innovation and to focus on the Seven C’s of a Successful Innovation Culture. This could also  include providing a set of tools and methodologies for creative problem solving and other aspects of innovation work, organizing events, and other activities that support deepening capabilities across the Seven C’s of a Successful Innovation Culture.

Most organizations have innovated at least once in their existence, and in many organizations people are still innovating. A true innovation enablement leader is more of a coach, supporting emergent innovation and helping people test and learn, prototype, and find the right channel to scale the most promising insight-driven ideas (or work with the organization to create new channels).

So, are you seeking to control innovation with a chief innovation officer or to facilitate it with an innovation enablement leader?

For more on smart innovation, see How Much Will Digital Cannibalization Eat into Your Business?

Image credit: E Sotera (via interaction-design.org). 

This article originally appeared on Linkedin.


About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a popular innovation and digital transformation keynote speaker and workshop facilitator. He is the author of two books (so far) - 'Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire' from John Wiley & Sons and 'Charting Change' from Palgrave Macmillan. He is also the creator of the highly visual and collaborative Change Planning Toolkit™ and tweets from @innovate.