Chief Innovation Officer

The chief innovation officer (sometimes abbreviated as CINO) is the business world’s response to a fast-moving, technology-fueled marketplace. The evolution of technology has shortened the timeline on new product releases, hastened the pace at which customers expect to receive feedback and service, and created a more competitive world where today’s practices may not be good enough tomorrow. CINOs show organizations how to keep pace by integrating new ideas into an organization’s existing processes and infrastructure, most often through the use of modern technology.[1]

Historic Overview of Chief Innovation Officer[2]
The term "chief innovation officer" was first coined and described in the 1998 book Fourth Generation R&D. Organizations with a CINO are practicing part of the fourth generation of innovation theory and practice to emerge since 1900. Successful chief innovation officers focus on delivering on the key principles behind innovation - leadership, creating networks, harnessing VOC/HOC in idea development, leveraging the right incentives, and building/running an effective, transparent, and efficient innovation process. The CINO is responsible for managing the innovation process inside the organization that identifies strategies, business opportunities, and new technologies and then develops new capabilities and architectures with partners, new business models, and new industry structures to serve those opportunities. CINO doesn't have to report to the CEO or another C-level executive. CINO is a functional title, similar to the chief information security officer. The words "chief" and "officer" are used to communicate that a person in this position is responsible for driving innovation throughout the entire organization. Using a functional "chief ... officer" title helps to communicate that this is a cross-organizational position and enables this person to work across organizational silos. The CINO focuses on radical or breakthrough innovation. The coined term CINO/CTIO is used to differentiate the position from the chief information officer, who is responsible for the information technology and computer systems that support enterprise goals.

The Chief Innovation Officer's Responsibilities[3]
In brief, the Chief Innovation Officer carries two major responsibilities in the company:
1) manage the innovation function, and
2) manage the interface of the innovation function with the rest of the organization.
Said another way, the Chief Innovation Officer must be an orchestrator, orchestrating all the elements of the management system so that Discovery, Incubation, and Acceleration are finely tuned, and orchestrating the relationship between the innovation management system and the company’s capacity to absorb it. It’s a balancing act that has to be constantly monitored and fine-tuned as well. Managing the innovation function means overseeing the health and activity of the BI portfolio, and monitoring all of the elements of the management system for BI. By this we mean:

  • Ensuring that the roles required to manage the portfolio are established and filled by people with the right skills and experiences.
    • That they are rewarded appropriately given their work is of much more uncertain outcome than most other roles in the organization.
    • That the processes used for project management are the right ones.
    • That the balance of resources and activities across Discovery, Incubation and Acceleration is healthy for overall output.
    • Managing the interface with the rest of the organization means:
  • Ensuring that innovation remains on the organizational agenda and is viewed as imperative.
    • That its portfolio is linked to the strategic intent of the firm, and, in fact, is informing it.
    • That adequate resources are allocated to it, even given the competition for resources with the immediate needs the organization is facing.
    • That projects progressing through the innovation function will be successfully received into the operational functions of the firm when they are grown into sufficiently mature businesses.

This requires enrolling the commitment and participation of other organizational leaders, who have more immediate responsibilities, and being sensitive to changes in the organization’s capacity to support and absorb breakthroughs.

Traits of An Effective Chief Innovation Officer[4]
What makes an effective CINO? There are a few key traits:
1. A High Credibility Factor: It's not enough for a CINO to be respected by the employees in the company (though, certainly, that goes a long way). A CINO has to get the respect of all of the other officers in the company, as well. This is a leadership role, not a “boss” role—and that means that a CINO should ideally have already proven their innovative abilities when they join a company. Having a track record of past successful innovations will add credibility to a CINO’s recommendations and make it easier to bring other leaders to their vision.
2. The Ability to See and Communicate the Future: Innovation isn't just about coming up with the most original ideas, or recognizing an original idea when it’s presented. The success or failure of an innovative idea is often about timing. That means it’s crucial for a CINO to have a good predictive sense based on their experience in the market, and be able to see where a market might be going, identify future product needs, and contemplate how those needs will be filled. Not only that, but the CINO must be able to communicate those predictions in ways that make sense to others within an organization. They should be able to explain how they reached their conclusions and map out how the organization might go about adapting to those new realities.
3. The Ability to Drive Ideas and Action Around His or Her Vision: Put simply: it's not enough to have a vision. As a CINO, you have to have the power to drive ideas and actions around that vision to make it a reality. Forbes notes that a CINO doesn’t just need to be able to ideate, prototype, and launch a product, but do so in a team environment and in a way that plays on each team member’s individual strengths. As a CINO, you're a team leader first and foremost, and you need to know how to communicate your vision to a variety of people in such a way that it becomes their vision, too.
4. The Ability to Identify, and Disarm, the Innovation Antibodies: Innovation antibodies are the forces within an organization that fight against anything that threatens the status quo, much like how the antibodies within our own bodies fight against outside invaders. While they mean well by trying to protect the stability of the whole, they can end up doing a lot of damage by shutting down positive change. One of the most important traits that a company can have is the ability to grow and adapt to change. Being resistant to change is anathema to innovation—no good ideas were ever born out of fear. As a CINO, you have to have the ability not only to function as the leader of a team, but also to identify those team members who are resistant to change and figure out why, and what it will take to disarm them. Whether they just need further education to understand the necessity for change or they simply aren’t suited to work for an innovative company, it will be up to you to decide how to handle these antibodies.
5. The Ability to Build and Bridge Connections: Finally, as a CINO, you need to prioritize building connections, both within your organization and between it and other organizations. A CINO should be willing to set aside ego and not worry about who gets credit for an innovation, but rather foster openness and transparency to drive collaborative change. Many innovative companies crowdsource product ideas and seek out the expertise of partner organizations. It’s about giving and sharing in order to create the best possible innovation by using all available resources.

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Further Reading