Chief Innovation Officer, a designation or a need?

Innovation is more than a buzz word, it is the key for progress and every person working for a company directly or indirectly is contributing towards the success of the company. There are some discussions and articles that clearly mention, innovation cannot be delegated. That might be true, but there can be someone who can help accelerate things or act as a moderator to help innovation.

In a business, there are normal activities that run as business as usual, generating revenue, promoting existing products and services, sending out invoices, and the list can go on. Why would a business think of hiring an innovation officer at the C-level? Innovation is becoming more than just a buzz word, companies are trying to integrate it into their lifestyle and daily tasks. Innovation starts by asking a question, why is that happening, or what would happen if this happens. Innovation allows people to think without boundaries and it can help the business scale up and scale in side manner at the same time. Side-scaling, is something that allows businesses to go into different verticals but staying focused on the main goal.

According to the 2017 Innovation Benchmark report, sales growth was the top metric as the innovation’s impact.

The world is becoming increasingly disruptive, and if a business is not innovative, it would struggle to stay in business. From startups to big corporates, organizations need to think about creating better services, better solutions for end customer.

When I was looking at some roles like Chief Innovation Officer (CINO), I noticed multiple things and the role was very diverse ranging from creating new product units/lines to developing a culture of innovation. What I did find common was creating this mindset for openness to innovation.

A Chief Innovation Officer can enable and ensure that the culture of the company is open to innovation, and allows failures. Not every product is the best, nor is every product sold, nor every product can commercially made available. This is where the chief innovation officer comes into the play.

According to a study by Egon Zehnder in 2017, 29% of the Fortune 500 companies had a senior innovation executive.

In my opinion, a CINO is a catalyst, and an enabler who helps the team to be creative, to allow experimentation and seeing the results of the product, service or process. A CINO would not look at a product that did not work as a failed experiment, they would look at it as an opportunity and try to see why did that not work, or was there something that can be taken into other products/services.

There is a beautiful thing about human beings, they have the tendency to dream, and think of ideas. Not just simple ideas, creative ideas to allow creation of better services/products or even better organizational structure.

The most important thing about a Chief Innovation Officer is they motivate people to think outside of the box, and enable them with it even though if the product might not have the best results.

But the question, if CINO is focused towards new ideas, how to generate revenue? The answer lies in the changes happening around us. The current Corona pandemic has changed work-life balance, it has changed the way people work, and the way people commute. An innovation officer can help businesses think about looking for new opportunities, promote the culture of innovation internally and externally. This would attract talents who are willing to take the risk in working with innovative concepts, solutions, products or processes.

What can a Chief Innovation Officer do?

The Chief Innovation Officer can offer a lot in terms of helping the organization be more innovative. This includes

  • Focus on different kinds of innovation techniques (incremental innovation, architectural innovation, disruptive innovation and radical innovation).
  • Think of an innovation strategy for the stake holders including board of directors, top management, complete team, partners, and customers. Customers also are very important, having a CINO would allow customers to always be keen in terms of innovation.
  • Supporting the Product management, strategy and key management to create a well-balanced portfolio and roadmap.
  • Creating an image of the company that the organization is a visionary and wants to create more value for the customers.
  • Enables the team to create products, services and processes to help the business improve their performance.

According to a PWC Innovation Benchmarking Survey, 54% of the executives struggled to align innovation strategy with business strategy. This is where a Chief Innovation Officer can help business, to align the two strategies.

Global Innovation Index

The Global Innovation Index looks at economies, and ranks them with different metrics including

  • Institutions – Political environment, Regulatory environment and Business environment
  • Human capital and research – Education, Tertiary education and Research and Development
  • Infrastructure – Information and Communication Technologies, General Infrastructure, and Ecological sustainability
  • Market Sophistication – Credit, Investment, and Trade/competition/market scale
  • Business Sophistication – Knowledge workers, innovation linkages, and knowledge absorption.

Applying these points to a business setting,

  • The business environment should allow innovation
  • Educating the team about innovation
  • Being open for research and development
  • Creating an infrastructure that supports innovation
  • Enabling and knowledge sharing to accelerate the problem solving.

According to Strategy& 13.06% was the budget for top 25 innovative companies from their revenue of that year with Amazon being at top by investing 22.6 Billion USD in 2018.

What kind of models can be built by a Chief Innovation Officer?

There are different models that can be used by a CINO for enabling innovation including Open innovation, design thinking, co-creating with customers/partners/suppliers, Traditional R&D, innovating in emerging markets, taking risks-failing fast-trying again, Intrapreneurship as internal incubators, investing in startups-via corporate investments.

According to HBR, there are six kinds of CINO’s. This includes

  • The researcher – A person looking for the next being thing, or inventing things that are completely new.
  • The Engineer – A person who wants to build something that will work now and consistently improving concepts.
  • The Investor – Someone focused on numbers and is looking at innovation as a means of financial growth.
  • The Advocate – A person who wants to deliver something new to the customer.
  • The Motivator – A person who helps and enables others to unlocking their ideas.
  • The organizer – Someone interesting in creating a process to come up with new ideas.

This can be integrated into other roles as well to help the Chief Innovation Officer do a better job of creating and enabling innovation for the organization.

Having a Chief Innovation Officer will allow businesses to push boundaries, create interesting products, services and processes that can eventually help the business strategically and financially.  Innovation is something that is done by the whole team, and not just one person, but this one person can help others to let the innovative ideas out.