The Corante Innovation Hub and its members (Jeffrey Phillips, Paul Gladen, Matt Chapman) have been blogging lately about whether companies should have a Chief Innovation Officer. Business Week recently had an article discussing what makes a CIO, so after reading an article in the latest Business Week on how Whirlpool created innovation within their own company, I thought I’d add a comment or two.
First, I’m going to avoid the whole CIO question by saying that what title anyone has depends on the corporate structure within a company. C-titles may not be appropriate.
I’ll also state that some companies are simply too small to worry about innovation in the way that larger established companies can. Many companies are too small to support the work necessary to investigate and develop innovative ideas and need to simply focus on their current product line.
That being said, large companies don’t necessarily need a CIO or a VP of Innovation. What they need is an innovation process, just like they have a product development process, product rollout process, marketing launch process. Many companies think that the mere fact that they have an R&D department means that they have all they need to create innovation. Wrong. Innovation creation is a process that needs to be developed, planned, promoted and nurtured. Innovation doesn’t just happen.
This was the mistake highlighted in the Business Week article on Whirlpool. The CEO of Whirlpool let it be known that everyone in the company was expected to innovate. He promoted innovation throughout the company and ended up with…nothing. Creating innovation in a valuable way for a company takes more than telling employees to be innovative. Here’s Business Week’s take on it:
Some people are naturally creative and innovative and have the initiative to push their ideas through a reluctant system. If you happen to have one of them on your staff, congratulations, but that person isn’t enough. Every company needs to figure out how they are going to develop their innovation process. AMD’s head of human resources says in Business Week that “A chief innovation officer needs to be this blend of marketer, technologist, strategist, and business person.” I would also add that this person needs to be creative to develop new initiatives and a leader to convince others to embrace this new process. If you have one of those, put them in charge of your innovation process. If not, create a committee and get help, but do it. Your competitors aren’t going to wait.
Whirlpool learned the hard way that real innovation requires a lot more than simply urging thousands of employees around the world to tap into their inner designer and then waiting for the great ideas to roll in. It requires hard work, structure, and unwavering discipline.