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Hiring Creative Minds as the Chief Innovation Officer

Companies are creating a new executive position called CIO, with a new meaning of “Chief Innovation Officer” rather than the traditionally-known “Chief Information Officer.” The truth is 43% of the companies have already had a Chief Innovation Officer in place, as revealed in a survey study reported by The Wall Street Journal (video). I am pleased to see that many companies recognize the importance of innovation but feel uneasy about the fact that very few understand what role a Chief Innovation Officer should play in the organization.

One difficulty of defining the role for Chief Innovation Officer is that innovation can take place in many ways. Some great examples of innovation can be found in this month’s Fortune Magazine article about the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time. They are:

  1. Steve Jobs (Apple): He believed that focus groups and market research would limit his ability to innovate. --- “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want. It’s hard for (consumers) to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”
  2. Bill Gates (Microsoft and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation): He focuses on hiring very smart people and putting them to work in small teams to solve big issues.
  3. Fred Smith (FedEx): He asked the executives to rely on the “first-level” managers, “to set an example themselves, and to praise in public when someone has done a good job.”
  4. Jeff Bezos (Amazon): He finds time to be pro-active rather than reactive by taking solo retreats, when he locks himself up and researches/comes up with creative ideas.
  5. Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google): They spent $11.8 billion on research and development in the past three years. It’s important “to let people be really creative and think outside the box.” I can see that when I toured Google in Mountain View during my Christmas break.
  6. Howard Schultz (Starbucks): He challenges “the old way of doing things.”
  7. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook): He is the Silicon Valley’s “most paranoid entrepreneur these days, taking nothing for granted.”
  8. John Mackey (Whole Foods): “Purpose inspired people.”
  9. Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines): He kept costs extraordinarily low and customer service high by creating a culture that respects the people he carefully hired.
  10. Narayana Murphy (Infosys): In his words, “it is all about sacrifice, hard work, lots of frustration, being away from your family, in the hope that someday you will get adequate returns from that.”
  11. Sam Walton (Wal-Mart): He heavily invested in software that could track consumer behavior in real time. He flipped the supplier-retailer relationships upside down by truly understanding consumers and sharing real-time data with suppliers.
  12. Muhammad Yunus (Grameen Bank): This Nobel Peace Prize recipient created the microcredit and microlending concept, which helped fund enormous small entrepreneurial projects for the poor.

These great entrepreneurs of our time are all very inspiring people with creative minds. They observe (and can see what others usually miss), recognize issues, rely on and invest in (smart) people, dare to ask questions, and have no fears of challenging traditions. Here, it is important to note that innovation does not always come from information technology or engineering. Being able to relate those seem-to-be-unrelated resources, break down issues into components, put them back together in a different way, or twist the old concepts with an unconventional method could also trigger innovation.  

Last month, I discussed the HR challenges created by the Web 2.0 technology, some of which includes: to whom a social media officer should be reported and what role a social media officer should play in an organization. If an organization has a Chief Innovation Officer, s/he can oversee the company’s social media activities. Then, (as what I suggested) the Chief Innovation Officer needs to consider every aspect of the company’s business operation when developing a comprehensive social media strategy. A Chief Innovation Officer should connect with every business unit within the organization while remaining independent from these units. A Chief Innovation Officer is not a Chief Information Officer or a Department Head of Research & Development. Rather, s/he must have the ability to observe, recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each business unit, create an organizational culture that promotes innovation, find ways to connect people and under-utilized resources, and very importantly, dare to challenge the traditions with possible solutions.

In your opinions, what should a Chief Innovation Officer be doing in an organization? What kind of candidates can be good for the position of Chief Innovation Officer? How should a Chief Innovation Officer be evaluated at work?


References:
John A. Byrne. (2012, April). The 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time – and what you can learn from them. Fortune Magazine, pp. 68-86.

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