Death of the Chief Innovation Officer?

Death of the Chief Innovation Officer?I recently did a presentation to a large nationwide insurance company around “the state of innovation” today. it was an interesting opportunity to reflect upon some of the major changes that I’ve been noticing going on over the last year.

As this was a pretty senior audience, it was no surprise that one of the items that caught their attention was the state of innovation leadership and how innovation is staffed and led in the modern enterprise.

One of the biggest changes I think is the death of the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) role. As unusual as it sounds for someone like me to be proclaiming that – I have good reason for my assertion – other than the evidence of numerous high profile CIOs leaving their employment over the last year or so.

In reality – it’s not that companies don’t have the need for the CIO role – but rather that I think innovation has become such a critical part to most company’s future that it has been rolled into a much more important role – that of the CEO. Try finding one CEO statement on any financial report that doesn’t mention innovation nowadays – and I absolutely applaud that approach. Innovation has the capacity to make big – no HUGE – changes to a company. Take Nokia – innovation has taken it from being a forestry company, to a rubber products company, to a telecoms behemoth – without complete executive support for the type of changes required to innovate, it simply wouldn’t have happened. Innovation has to be about helping the organization achieve a direction and goal that it WANTS to achieve – and ultimately there is only one person in the organization that has the ultimate responsibility for that – the CEO.

That’s not to say that organizations can get away without some sort of senior leadership – far from it – that leadership is as important, if not more important, than ever before – but it now is coming from a position that is junior to whomever leads the major change directions within the organization – in some organizations that comes under a Chief Strategy Officer, in Consumer Products companies that is typically the Chief Marketing Officer, in Pharmaceutical and other research intensive companies it falls most likely under the R&D department – and in some cases it’s a position that reports directly to the CEO.

This new role – most frequently then an SVP / VP of Innovation – is the guardian of innovation within the company – ensuring processes are devised, targeted and executed to enable the organization’s strategic goals to be achieved. They are the ultimate problem solving expert in the company – helping to not only define the problems that must be overcome, but then also to define the methodology by which they can be solved and ensuring that the organization’s resources are made available to do so. They are the champions of change, the focusing lens of innovation, and ultimately the secret to a successful program.

The CIO is dead! Long Live the VP, Innovation!

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Boris PluskowskiBoris Pluskowski is the Founder of The Complete Innovator where he regularly shares new ideas and best practices on how big companies can harness Innovation, Collaboration and Social Media to drive new sources of value throughout the enterprise.

Boris Pluskowski




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No Comments

  1. Jeffrey Phillips on May 7, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Hey Boris.

    Good article and I agree with your assessment. Innovation isn’t the responsibility of one person, but at the same time it should be organized and supported across the enterprise. Innovation happens in product groups, across product groups and in the “white space”. All of those “locations” are important and need to be encouraged.

    Ideally the “keeper” of the innovation tools, methods and approaches can offer consistent tools and methods to individuals and teams innovating in these three locations within the organization. So the “local” team owns the innovation need and outcome, while some individual or more probably a team provides consistent tools and techniques. Just as each line of business doesn’t create its own purchasing process, each innovation initiative shouldn’t create its own tools and techniques.

    That’s one very important job, and the CEO isn’t going to ensure consistent methods. Someone, or some team, should do that, as well as focus on the longer term, disruptive and cross product or cross business line innovations that none of the siloed organizations can consider given their quarterly focus and organizational turf.

  2. Gregg Fraley on May 8, 2010 at 6:00 am

    Couldn’t agree more, it’s the CEO’s job. Does Steve Jobs need a CIO? Did Laffley at P&G?

    Innovation bubbles up from a culture that has been simmered in organizational creativity, and, has leadership that empowers everyone to innovate. And the culture is the CEO’s responsibility.

  3. Richard Platt on May 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Yep Boris, everyone has an opinion about this don’t they, I know I do, I should I earned it.

    Better than talking about it though, check out this presentation on “The Skills and Roles of a Chief Innovation Officer”

    Who cares if it’s a VP title, that’s just a title for “wanna be’s” who don’t know how to lead, or is needed for the posers who wish they had the background and necessary experience to actually do the job that the position requires.

    Why do I know? I evaluate these guys all the time, does that make me arrogant? or just educated?

    You be the judge

  4. Mariana on May 11, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Richard, the presentation you recommended is the least innovative I saw in years…I am sorry, but I think the author could benefit of some “innovation” in how he makes a presentation…

  5. Boris Pluskowski on May 11, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Hi guys

    Thanks a lot for your comments on this post. I originally wrote this article a few years ago as several high-profile CInO’s of Fortune 100 companies, including several clients, were losing their roles – amusingly a short time after being featured in a BusinessWeek article :p

    I still believe that the conclusions in this article are accurate however, and just as valid today as it was back then. Over the last few years, I’ve continued to see an increase in the VP/SVP Innovation title, and no more Chief Innovation Officer – and I think this trend will continue as Innovation ever gets more operational into the corporate world at large.

    Jeffrey & Gregg – really glad you liked this article – Keep making sure that your clients are installing the right type of people in their companies to lead these efforts (and if you find one looking to hire someone, send them my way 😉 )

    Richard – thanks also for your comments – I like your presentation and agree with most of it (the background slide is the only one which I might have any real issue with – mainly because the ideal background is subjective to the company in question, and I also believe that, for many companies, they’re better served hiring from outside their industry in order to gain the advantage of not being restrained by the “common wisdom” of their industry, and to instead get someone who will challenge the accepted rules of the business)

    If I can help you guys in any way, please feel free to contact me.


    Boris Pluskowski

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