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The Chief Innovation Officer: Part One – Gathering Ideas

There is a new chief in town and things are going to change. Well, we better hope so or the person is not doing a good job. The chief I am referring to is the Chief Innovation Officer. The term has been thrown around loosely, but who is this mysterious person?

In this three part series I aim to answer that question and explain exactly what it is they do. I believe the Chief Innovation Officer has three primary roles:

  • Gather Ideas: Implementing the process and tools necessary to gather ideas.
  • Sell Ideas: Have the knowledge and connections necessary to sell ideas.
  • Implement Ideas: Facilitate or manage the implementation of Ideas.

Sounds pretty simple eh? Well let’s get started.

Believe it or not, gathering the idea is probably the easiest part of the Chief Innovation Officers three primary responsibilities. With that being said, it is also one of the areas that most organizations do the worst. To gather Ideas you have to do the following:

  • Be open to new ideas.
  • Ask the right questions.
  • Provide an incentive to participate

Let’s assume we are all open to new ideas and get into asking the right questions. When you are trying to gather ideas you have to ask focused and open-ended questions. You must identify a problem prior to seeking ideas on how to solve it. Too many organizations just ask for any idea but that only works for small problems. But for real change you must identify real problems and ask questions that provoke thought that can lead to real solutions. For example:

  • How can we improve public transportation?
  • What is something that we can do to reduce crime?

Or start with a clarifying statement and then a question:

  • We are currently suffering from aging road infrastructure, high demands for new infrastructure and a dwindling budget. What are some ways that we can maintain and develop road infrastructure with a limited budget?
  • The unemployment rate in our area continues to rise and is much higher than other areas in the region. How can we get people into jobs and improve the unemployment rate in our area?

Once you have identified the problem and the questions, you must then identify the platform that you will use to gather the ideas. The platform must be open, allow for discussion and provide incentives.

Ideas must go from submission, then to engagement and then to implementation. You need a platform or tool to accomplish the first two phases.

Check out SPIGIT’s free version at https://icon.spigit.com/.

Please do not forget to check out part 2, selling ideas to continue on your journey of becoming a Chief Innovation Officer.

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Deb Green

Tim, wonderful insight. Ideas need action that brings those concepts to fruition. Without that engagement piece, you can never reach implementation (or acceptance!).

Vanessa Vogel

I would agree that the most important step is gathering ideas. It’s all about doing the research beforehand to know what the problem is within the organization. Like you said, this is one step where organizations fall short. People don’t do the brainstorming and cut straight to the execution. They don’t try and research what was done in the past and gather all the information necessary to move forward. Through identifying the problem, planning, and idea sharing an organization can really achieve it’s highest goal.

Deb Green

Hrm… I’m not so sure gathering ideas alone is the most important step. I have a different perspective Vanessa – I manage an ideation program for my agency and a platform for our Department. Most of us in the ideation sphere will tell you – lots of people have LOTS of ideas. Many of those ideas need to peel back a number of layers in the onion to find out if what’s being proposed will solve the problem identified. Research, critical thinking, and playing devil’s advocate, etc… are all key components of that process. But all the research and investigation in the world alone are just analysis paralysis if there’s no one on the other end willing to act.

It’s definitely a balanced effort between gathering ideas, researching and implementing. All three need to be done effectively to make a difference and bring about change in the workplace or a change in a business practice.

Vanessa Vogel

I agree you have to you have to peel back a number of layers in the onion to discover the root problem but without any ideas this process is more difficult. I agree though it’s all about a balance between generating ideas and implementing a plan. But this entire process starts with the ideas and research. Once you have done this, you need an action plan and then you act as you put it. You deliver your message for others to hear it.

Chris Cairns

I think this is a great topic. Idea / Innovation Management seems like it’s been an emerging discipline for a while now. I know some companies have used platforms like InnoCentive successfully. I know we’ve all been programmed to think that execution is more important than the idea, but it can be argued that the idea stage is the most important when it comes to managing innovation actively. Since ideas are free, you tend to get a lot of them from people. You need a good way to rank and prioritize and select the few that are worth of implementation. IBM ran several InnovationJams a few years back that resulted in the company investing billions of dollars in solutions. Can you imagine the waste if the wrong ideas were selected? I’d rather screw-up the execution with hope of recovery on the right idea than to execute a wrong idea successfully.

Chris Cairns

I think there’s another stage that needs to be added, although you could lump it under implementation, and that’s — testing. Before you implement, you should come up with creative and cost-effective ways to test whether or not the idea is worth pursuing fully. May not be practical in all cases, but perhaps will save you a billion dollars (per my previous comment below).

Samuel Lovett

I listened to yesterday’s DorobekINSIDER interview with Scott Anthony, author of a new book called “The Little Black Book of Innovation,” and one of the takeaways for me was the importance of the “crossroads” in the workplace. The crossroads are the seemingly small decisions about how a space or a schedule is made to create meaningful encounters between people.

I think another role of the chief innovation officer is to be more than open to new ideas, as you say, but to actively create an environment where quality new ideas can be created by getting employees out into the office crossroads.

Tim Howell

Thanks for all the great comments.

Samuel – That is a great point and one that I completely agree needs to be added. The importance of “crossroads” has been talked about a lot lately. Great point!

Chris-I agree with you that testing is very, very, very important. Although, I do not necessarily think it is duty of the Chief Innovation Officer but they probably should make sure that it is included in the implementation plan (I will talk about in Part 3).

Vanessa and Deb – Great dialog. I think it is hard to say what area is truly the most important. Every area can make or break an idea. Bad ideas are sometimes sold and implemented perfectly, and vice versa. I will say, I believe that selling the idea is the most important role of the Chief Innovation Officer though. I think you will really enjoy part 2 (Will be posted on Monday) 🙂