The whole premise behind a Chief Innovation Officer goes beyond useless to completely and utterly counterproductive. If one person is in charge of innovation, everyone else are not. And they must be. Anyone not innovating is falling behind those that are. Darwin taught us that that is a bad thing. So: No Chief Innovative Officers. No distinctions between scientific, artistic and interpersonal leaders. Everyone is responsible for innovating, creating and leading.
From STEM to STEAM
At HATCH Latin America, Creative Coalition President, actor Tim Daly explained to me why this is so important. He was one of the “Innovators and Communicators” at a session with Obama in early 2009. As they discussed the STEM education initiative to boost science, technology, engineering and math, Daly asked, “Where’s the A?” It’s the arts that put engineering and technology in the human context. “Arts are the emissaries and custodians of our culture.” Thus STEM became STEAM.
The argument for including arts in education is compelling. Daly shared some data:
• 70-80% of young people that get out of jail in Los Angeles go back. That drops to 6% for young people that take part in the “Inside Out” creative writing workshop.
• 30% of U.S. high school students drop out. But students who have taken art programs through middle school are three times more likely to graduate than the norm.
• When you factor in the costs of recidivism and failure, an investment in youth arts programs returns $7 for every $1 spent.
This is why Daly “became radicalized about the importance of arts and art education.” As he puts it, science is “meaningless” without arts. Artists make people feel.
Daly led a breakout group at HATCH on arts and education. One of its ideas was how to move people’s view of art from dangerous to irrelevant to being part of the answer. The idea was to involve all three of the different types of leaders the world needs: tapping the scientific leaders for the rational, data, value and brain science arguments, the artistic leaders for the emotional connection and stories, and interpersonal leaders to deal with the politics and business of getting funding and support.
No False Tradeoffs
Innovation is too important to be left to the Chief Innovation Officer. Everyone must innovate. Everyone must create whether they prefer connective, component or blank page creativity. Science is too important to be left to the scientists. Everyone needs to understand science, technology, engineering and math. And everyone needs to leverage their own artistic side to communicate facts in a way that taps into emotions and sparks value-creating behaviors.
However, as one Chief Innovation Officer1 explained to me, when making a cultural shift, a Chief Innovation Officer “can be an effective catalyst for change, as long as that person’s charter is to create the right conversations and underlying business processes that connect the appropriate functions in a powerful and integrated way.”
Break the trade-offs with some good old-fashioned gap bridging.
1. Get everyone aligned around a shared purpose. Without a shared picture of your mission, vision and values nothing else is going to work. Determine where you are going to play and what matters and why.
2. Build a common understanding of the current reality. Take a cold, hard, dispassionate view of the facts around where you stand with regard to your customers, collaborators, capabilities, competitors and conditions in which you operate. Remember that adding constraints actually increases innovation.
3. Bridge the gaps. Work through and implement choices around how you are going to win, how you’re going to connect and the impact you are going to have. This is where you mash up your scientific, artistic and interpersonal leaders so they can leverage their individual strengths and preferences to innovate, create and communicate together.
Words matter. So do eliminate Chief Innovation Officer titles to help inspire and enable everyone to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose.
1Got comments on this article from a number of people before publishing it (as I do with most of my articles). This particular person, who shall remain nameless, wrote:
“First of all a few areas of complete alignment:
1. Words do matter. Several years ago, many companies jumped on the “Chief Innovation Officer” bandwagon and created the role without much org design thought or clarity re: what that individual was supposed to do.
2. Everyone can and must innovate.
I think there’s always a danger in folks being far too literal in interpreting senior leadership roles. For example:
• Chief People (or Talent) Officer (we all need to focus on engaging the hearts and minds of our people)
• Chief Financial Officer (we all need to have some level of financial/business acumen re how the enterprise makes money)
• Chief Information Officer (we all need to effectively deal with information from various sources on a daily basis)
• Chief Technology Officer (we all need some understanding of how the science and technology embedded in our offerings creates competitive advantage)
• Chief Design Officer (we all are designers if you believe that “Everyone designs who devises courses of actions aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones” – Herb Simon, Nobel Laureate in Economics)
(As a side note, I encourage you to Google the Charlie Rose interview with Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Jonathan Ive. Even though Apple is renowned for their design prowess and have a cadre of talented design professionals, they still need someone who will take accountability to lead the design discipline at Apple, make decisions, break ties, ensure they continue to recruit and grow great design talent, etc.)
I think one important distinction is that areas like HR, Finance, IT, R&D, and Design are both functions and activities. Innovation, on the other hand, is certainly a business-wide activity, but it is not a function.
If you’re driving a culture change to re-emphasize innovation, appointing a Chief Innovation Officer can be an effective catalyst for change, as long as that person’s charter is to create the right conversations and underlying business processes that connect the appropriate functions in a powerful and integrated way.
So, I like the provocative title of your post, but I think it’s important to convey that there is a way to have a CINO that can be effective in an organization, and not simply the chief innovator for the company.”