What Should Your Chief Innovation Officer Do for Your Company?

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by Yoram Solomon

Editor’s note: This article is an adapted excerpt from Yoram Solomon’s book: Blueprints for the Next Big Thing. 

McKinsey Company surveyed 2,240 executives and asked how important is innovation to them. 84% responded that innovation was extremely or very important to their companies’ growth. The Boston Consulting Group found that 79% of executives put innovation as one of the top 3 priorities for their companies, and 22% made it the single top priority. And for a reason.

Research showed that consistently innovative companies hold 6 times the market share, make 3 times the profit, and do 50% better during recessions than their average peers.

But what can you do about it?

The best you could do is to hire an innovation executive. Someone who focuses on nothing other than increasing the level of innovation in your company, consistently. You can call the position Chief Innovation Officer, Vice President of Innovation, or by any other name. But what should you expect from such an innovation executive?

Here are 10 things that the best innovation executives do.

1. They understand that innovation starts with people

Innovation is the implementation of creative ideas generated by, that’s right, your employees. Great innovation executives realize that they should focus on people instead of policies, posters, or innovation labs.

2. They are well versed in creativity research

Great ideas are not accidental. Great innovation executives are familiar with research on creativity in organizations, and know what factors affect employee creativity and innovation effectiveness.

3. They work to build a culture of innovation

They know that creativity starts with building a culture of innovation, through giving employees autonomy, reducing (if not eliminating) bureaucracy, and deploying everything to create the right culture to motivate creativity.

4. They operate at all three organizational levels

They press for change, training, and coaching at the corporate and executive level, at the team and team leader level, and at the individual contributor level, because all three levels are required to create the right culture.

5. They assess before they intervene

Intervening on multiple levels without knowing where the problems are is ineffective and inefficient. Great innovation executives first use organizational climate, team, and individual assessments, interviews, focus groups, and other means to assess the current climate and identify the areas to focus on to get the best bang for the buck.

6. They are experienced with multiple ideation techniques

There are many different ideation techniques, that vary by their time horizon, scope, and level of ideas. From scenario planning through war games to TRIZ, Design Thinking, and more. The best innovation executives are familiar with as many of those as possible, and can select the appropriate one for the type of ideas sought (from solving an engineering problem to finding the long-term company direction, or the next big thing), and can even customize techniques for the situation at hand.

7. They are great facilitators

Innovation executives are not expected to be the innovators, but the great ones can facilitate ideation processes effectively to generate great ideas. They assume that the employees have the solutions, and their role is to facilitate the process of getting those solutions out of them.

8. They are great teachers, trainers, and coaches

Because they know what makes people creative, the best innovation executives know how to teach, train, and coach employees (and other executives) to excel at innovation. They teach employees that corporate culture starts with them, and empower them to embrace risk, experiment, and take ownership. They teach them that failure is a viable option, as long as you learn from it.

9. They develop innovation metrics

As Peter Drucker said: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Great innovation executives start by adopting (or developing) an innovation metric that is appropriate for the company’s innovation goals, and set goals using that metric, to measure the effectiveness of the innovation culture they help build.

10. They train others to scale the process

The best innovation executives train others in the organization to scale their work, so that corporate innovation will not solely rely on them. They train champions all through the organization, which makes building an innovation culture faster and more effective.

My new book, Blueprints for the Next Big Thing, is available now.

 image credit: businesscomputingworld.co.uk

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Dr. Yoram Solomon is an inventor, a creativity researcher, coach, consultant, and trainer to large companies and their employees. His Ph.D. examines why people are more creative in startup companies than in mature ones. Yoram was a professor of Technology and Industry Forecasting at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UT Dallas School of Management; is active in regional innovation and tech commercialization; and is also a speaker and author on predicting technology future and identifying opportunities for market disruption. Follow @yoram