The Role of the Chief Innovation Officer

9 Nov 2010 Sandeep Mehta

A short article in Business week on The Role of the Chief Innovation Officer:

A primary task then, of the chief innovation officer, is to oversee someone who is responsible for executive training and can make sure that the company’s language of innovation and the principles it embodies are widely disseminated and practiced.

 Interesting concept.  I clearly agree that a consistent definition of innovation is critical to measuring innovation effectiveness and ensuring that innovation delivers results.  However, I would hope that a Chief Innovation Officer (CInO) would do more than provide a consistent language. As per the author:

Managing the learning process when innovating for new-business growth is the second critical area of responsibility for the chief innovation officer. Core-business innovation proceeds largely on established knowledge about markets, customers, competition, and capabilities, which can be extended to bring something new to market at scale. New-business innovation proceeds in small-scale, controlled experiments conducted in a foothold market—a small geographic region or customer group that will serve as a low-cost laboratory.

This is interesting.  We have discussed the valley of death before, organizations face significant challenges in bringing innovation to fruition.  The author points out that it is the CInO’s job to close the valley of death.  The problem with this broad statement is the overlap in roles between CInO, CTO and VP of R&D.  An organization will need to think through this conflict clearly before establishing a CInO (more on it below).  Lastly, as per the author:

The failure rate, a critical learning metric, is likely to be high. Generally, in the absence of a structured approach to new-business innovation, about 1 in 10 new ideas works out. By taking the test-and-learn approach, the chief innovation officer can increase the hit rate to as much as 3 out of 10—a batting average that might be unacceptable in core-business innovation but can get you into the Hall of Fame in new-business innovation.

 The author is acknowledging what we discussed above and points out that CInO can help improve organizational learning based on the failures of innovation project.  A pretty good idea.

Here are my thoughts on the role of a CInO:

  • Encourage disclosure of innovative ideas from in-house engineers
  • Work with partners and customers on identifying and accessing innovation (and needs for it)
  • Scan external environments (universities, other small businesses) for accessing innovation
  • Provide seed fundings to develop proof-of-concept projects for innovation ideas
  • Monitor innovation projects and transition them to CTO / R&D for development
  • Nurture innovation projects and ensure they are not killed by not-invented-here mentality
  • Measure results of innovation projects and maintain metrics
  • Institute organizational learning from external and internal innovation projects
  • Develop and implement and innovation IP strategy
  • Others?

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