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Abbott, Keeven & Fisher PartnersPartners In Hyper Growth

Chief Innovation Officer – Organization #Fail

If I get another phone call from another recruiter about a “Chief Innovation Officer” search, I may just hang myself from my hotel light fixture with my belt.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not angry at the recruiter (other than for wasting some of my time) – I’m mad at the CEO or person advising the CEO who come up with such a lame title.  Why am I so upset over the name? Pull up a chair and grab a cup of coffee.  You don’t want to miss this rant.

My first gripe is with the name of this “position”.  The name just sucks and flies in the face of everything we know about innovation.  In some companies, the Innovation Officer might just be a rebranded VP or SVP of product.  I’m almost okay with that – except for the fact that in this case it is a complete misrepresentation of what the person is doing.   If the person is something other than the head product person, well, that’s when this position really is nothing more than a shareholder wealth incineration device.

This moronic title seems to imply that there is a person “responsible” for innovation within a company.  Anyone who believes that one person can somehow be responsible for innovation is clueless about whence innovation comes.  You can no more “control” innovation than you can domesticate a rabid dog hyped up on meth.  You can certainly “kill” innovation, just as you can put down that rabid junkie dog – and giving someone a business card with Chief Innovation Officer on it is like putting a 240 grain slug in that dog.  Goodbye junkie dog and goodbye innovation.  The dog will probably die a more humane death however, as the Chief Innovation Officer will kill innovation under the crushing weight of power point presentations and spreadsheets.

Innovation simply can’t be controlled.  It can be “captured”, it might be “harvested” and it certainly can be “found”.   In some cases, it might even be able to be “directed” with the right questions and incentives.   But “controlled”?  Give me a break.  Capturing, harvesting and finding are all by the company culture – not a single individual.  And as we all know, that culture is most often affected by the CEO and to a lesser degree by each level below the CEO.  This is one of those things, then, that the CEO can’t delegate.  It’s not a position – it’s a shared responsibility.  How do you incent people to innovate?  How do you find little pockets of innovation that hide within the organization but never become apparent because your processes require it to be presented within a 40 page Power Point deck?

My partner, Tom Keeven, knows how.  Tom is a man of varied interests.  One interest is running a pizza parlor in Carmel.  His employees come to him with suggestions all the time.  “Let’s start a delivery service”, “Why don’t we make a low carb pizza dough?”, “Let’s advertise in local hotels”.  Tom doesn’t tell them to run off and build a presentation – he listens to them with great interest.  He rewards them for great insights.  He tells them to experiment and try things out.

Google allows engineers to work on interesting problems with great benefit to the innovation process.  Granted, few of these innovations have paid off and the resulting shareholder dilution is very large.  But the process of bottoms -up, “grass roots” innovation produces results in terms of number of innovations brought to market.  Sooner or later one of them will pay off – the question is “at what cost”.

In summary, innovation isn’t an organization, it’s not a title and it’s certainly not something controlled from the top.  There are things you can do to nurture it and maybe even slightly direct it – but there is little you can do to control it.   You can’t hire a person to control it and you are just wasting your time if you expect to try to create an organization to “innovate”.  If you want your team to innovate, work on creating a risk tolerant culture and work to incent your team for their innovation efforts.  Lower the cost of innovation by eliminating ridiculously complex and burdensome innovation hurdles like executive presentations.  Change the ridiculous titles of your innovation officers to something useful and stop wasting shareholder wealth.


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    in September 7th, 2010 @ 14:51

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