The Uncommonly

Is the Chief Innovation Officer a Symptom or a Cure?

By Amy Radin

As 2019 comes to a close, and with 2020 just days away I’m excited and grateful to reflect upon a year of enriching relationships and experiences, anticipating what’s next on the journey.

Reality is that the pace and intensity of change for most of the year encourage a lot of “doing.” These few weeks offer us respite – and time for reflection.

If you support Alfred Toffler’s notion that the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn are now basic literacy requirements, you can make the most of this season by turning your curiosity into questions. Apply your learning, unlearning and relearning to plans for the coming year.

Some questions never seem to get answered. They could be the super difficult ones with complicated answers. Or maybe the answers are right there, and for whatever reason we don’t pick up on them. We may not be listening, or we may not accept the answers.

One question I have been asked for years is, “Should we have a Chief Innovation Officer (CINO)?” Although I’m not surprised, I’m left asking myself whether we are learning, unlearning and relearning how to lead innovation. Are we looking for a new answer? Or failing to implement answers that are hiding in plain sight?

Since the notion of the CINO has been in the business mainstream for 20 years, we have accumulated plenty of experience, and the lessons are consistent:

Established organizations can benefit from a CINO. Why?

  1. Creating, funding, and empowering a c-level position signals to everyone the executive team’s innovation intent.
  2. The role gives c-suite focus to advancing the organization mindset, skills and capabilities to enable innovation. For businesses used to predictability at scale – not for the fail-fast-fail-cheap methods of innovators – these changes won’t happen otherwise.
  3. This executive should be a visible advocate for what’s next, assuring colleague engagement so that innovation investments align with brand purpose, strategy and goals, and are not derailed by other agendas.

Remember, though, that innovation is a mindset, not a department.

Don’t view the appointment of someone to the CINO role as the answer to any business’ innovation problem. Creating viable new sources of growth that are more than incremental tweaks to the current business model will end up affecting the entire business. They will impact how every member of the organization plays their role, in ways that only the CEO can orchestrate, along with the involvement of the entire executive team.

Innovation is a way of operating. The CINO role is best built to define, champion and shepherd the myriad activities that contribute to changing the mindset of how the place operates. They will seed the organization with new opportunities for products or services that address market needs. But their appointment is no magic cure, and if it is seen as such, these executives will be just symptoms of unsolved, festering stagnation.

Continuing to ask this question is a signal of how hard it is to change an established culture and business model, even when the opportunities look massive, and the future rewards seem tangible. The answers exist, but they come with very hard work, stellar execution, diverse talent, a culture of intellectual curiosity and experimentation, leadership … and some amount of timing and luck.

The assignment of a Chief Innovation Officer can help in an organization driven by the curiosity to understand clients and their unsolved needs, and adaptive to executing in new ways to solve these needs at scale.

What is your toughest innovation question — the one that keeps coming back onto your list? How will you tackle it as you set out on your 2020 agenda?

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About Amy Radin

Amy Radin is an adviser, speaker and author, working with executives and senior leaders to deliver growth through meaningful innovation. She offers an uncommonly pragmatic and disciplined approach that begins with pinpointing high-potential unmet market needs, and from there provides a proven framework for “what to do next” and how to lead through the inevitable, daily challenges any organization will face in pursuit of innovation.
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Amy is a leader who is demanding and relentless in the pursuit of the great.

In The Change Maker’s Playbook she shares her philosophy and methods to transform ‘out-there’ ideas into new real world business models that can change businesses’ growth trajectories and how brands engage with their customers.

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Global Head, Digital Channels & Client Data Analytics; Standard Chartered Bank Board Member, Progressive Insurance