Death of the Chief Innovation Officer?

17 09 2008

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 orgs that comes under a Chief Strategy Officer, in Consumer Products companies that is typically the Chief Marketing Officer, in  Pharmas 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 org’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! 



10 responses

16 10 2008
Paul Hobcraft

I think you are right, innovating is evolving in importance and understanding by the CEO of an organization. He alone can clear the innovation pathway for the organization to respond too. It might be premature to say one title or another is dead or alive for the senior leader responsible for enacting innovation throughout the organization. I feel the shift in innovation taking place is a level or two further down the organization, there is a shift in titles going on to reflect more the demise of marketing in its present form into a broader ‘guardian’ or ‘champion’ of innovating activity around brands or service. I see far more Innovation Directors for brand groups but if this is simply a name change, then it will not strengthen innovation but be more of a ‘stay as we are’ just catering to this wish to have innovation within the title. What needs to be seen is the person responsible in building new innovative business models that change the existing form, not just this ‘guardian’ and this is where the role might be gravitating to the Strategic Officer. Predicting death of the CIO might be premature but I hope innovation does not get hijacked by marketing alone in this evolving time for innovation, a real fear for me on present trends

16 10 2008

I agree Paul – and have seen the same misuse of the Innovation title in certain CPG companies (Diageo springs to mind as I recently browsed their careers section) – however I think most people can see past that kind of shallow white washing and I don’t see it as a trend in any other industry yet – so I hope your fears are unfounded 🙂

10 11 2008

I think you are both right!
this is what i’ve been writing about on my blog. Innovation has become one of the most basic building blocks of business. No company can survive without innovation and even though we hear most CEOs talking about the need for innovation and its importance, very few of them take a risk or a chance at it. Very few really encourage innovation… we hear so much “this is the way we’ve always done it” that it’s anoying!
I want to make a statement for all ceos to listen to: Lead the way to innovation and do more than just talk about it!
love your blog by the way!

24 11 2008
Boris Pluskowski

Thanks for your contribution (and the kind words) Flor – they are much appreciated! I agree that a lot of CEO’s – especially in the current economy are providing primarily lip service to the word innovation – but watch out – those few that are continuing to act aggressively towards growth and innovation are the ones who will be the big winners when we come out the other end!


8 10 2009
Epistola» Blog Archive » Innovaatiomyytti 4: Firmaan pitää perustaa innovaatiojohtajan pesti

[…] on ajatus, joka putkahti esiin muutama vuosi sitten (esim. tämä artikkeli puolesta ja tämä vastaan). Mutta se vaipui aika nopeasti unholaan. Ei sellaista löydy Appelta tai Nokialta tai Googlelta. […]

23 02 2010
Tim Andren

I just found your article after doing some market research. Innovation is incredibly important for businesses large and small as the landscape has changed so drastically of late.

CEOs do throw the term around quite a bit, but the ones that get it truly understand that every product or service sold was once an innovation and with the playing field as flat as it is due to technology – the creative idea implemented correctly, remains supreme.

23 02 2010
Boris Pluskowski

Hi Tim

Many thanks for your comments, I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

I agree that there are CEOs out there that get it, but I’m still seeing far too many of them giving innovation no more than lip service at the moment. The key to getting more CEOs truly on board though is to get more corporate programs delivering results rather than promises. Until then, it’ll be an uphill battle to really get them involved in these programs.



25 02 2010
Andrew Guitarte

Very good insights! I want to add that the CI(nnov)O role has spawned various other roles in our organization (a Fortune 50 company). We now have a Chief Innovation Architect role, primarily responsible for driving enterprise & project management standards in innovation-related projects. Soon I foresee other roles emerge, namely Business Innovation Analyst, Innovation Program/Project Manager, Systems Innovation Engineer, and so on. Exciting times ahead!

12 08 2010

This is very interesting. I see many parallels between CIO’s and those who head up CSR, for in many instances I see much more about branding in having these positions, than actual commitment to carrying out the mandates they imply. Thank you Boris

16 08 2010
Boris Pluskowski

Thanks Jeremy – appreciate the comment. Although this post was written some time ago now, I still see it as being completely relevant to the modern day situation too. On top of that, considering writing a post on companies that engage in “Innovation-Washing” – which, amongst other activities, involves rebranding jobs with the Innovation moniker to make it seem to the outside world that they actively engage in formal innovation processes. However, as someone intimately aware of who’s really doing it, and who’s not, I can tell you for a fact that the majority of companies out there are still struggling to formalize innovation internally.

The main reason for this? I actually think it’s fear – and especially fear of the amount of change that happens when an innovation program is properly supported. That change brings with it unexpected and unpredictable results – and in today’s post-recession world, corporate execs are understandably gun shy about doing anything that might put their jobs and livelihood at risk. Very few are willing/able to take a longer term view of the necessary risks a company needs to take if it is to be around for the next 5-10 years. As few top execs are in their positions for that long, it’s much easier to simply rename a few positions to appease shareholders and keep the boat on an even keel rather than rock the boat. And what happens if they find the company at a disadvantage in the future? Easy – blame it on unpredictable market forces (aka other companies were more innovative) and look to purchase the capabilities of a company who wasn’t as lazy as yours!



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