Tuesday, July 10, 2018

You need a chief disruption officer, not a chief innovation officer

In older times, when kings ruled countries with little input from their subjects, it was easy for the king to exhibit some hubris.  After all, the king's family and retinue encouraged the idea of divine coronation - the sense that the king had his power from a divine source and that everything under his domain should pay homage to him.  Given this power, it wasn't hard for kings to become a bit deaf to other ideas or suggestions, or the idea that he could be fallible.  To compensate for this, some kings employed jesters, who were people who could actively question the king's decisions.  Jesters of course are an outgrowth of slaves who rode with generals returning from major conquests in ancient Rome.  The slaves were employed to constantly remind the general that he wasn't a god.

I bring up this history lesson to illustrate a key point.  Today's executives are very powerful, but are beholden to markets that demand exceptional financial precision.  Anything that deviates from delivery on promised financial results can be easily called into question.  Since everything in a business is focused on core products and services, delivering the results on a quarterly basis, someone, it seems, needs to act as a 'jester', constantly asking to expand thinking beyond the next quarter.  The fact of the matter is, cultural attitudes, efficient processes, reward systems and other factors make the job of a "chief innovation officer" difficult, often turning the role into a chief incremental officer.  What major corporations need is a senior executive who's only job is to focus on the future, on disruption, on what's emerging and how the company can win.  What I'd call a chief disruption officer.


OK, so far I've given you the history of the jester and related the importance and power that they had - the ability to question a king's decision - to a new role.  That new role is the Chief Disruption Officer.  When everyone in the company is focused on maintaining and defending the status quo, someone or some team needs to be looking over the horizon, seeing what's next and planning for emerging opportunities and emerging threats.  There is simply too much change underway to ignore this or to pay lip service to understanding what may disrupt your business, or what you can disrupt.

People will agree that insight into emerging opportunities and potential disruptions is important.  However, they will try to distribute the activity across a number of people or teams, and as the role is disseminated this way it loses importance.  Further, the role becomes an observer role rather than a proactive role, requiring the company to react to factors the observer identifies rather than move proactively into the marketplace.  To win the future, to be a good innovator, you need a fully functional CDO.

Supporting features

To make the CDO really work, you need more than a corporate figurehead.  The CDO needs a mandate from the CEO to win the future.  Beyond this mandate the CDO must align to corporate strategy and be accountable for specific revenue goals (ie 20% of revenue from newly released products or services).  This means that beyond a mandate and specific goals and measurements, the CDO needs funds that will allow them to obtain internal staff for key roles and/or partner with external agencies when internal staff are too busy doing incremental stuff.  Further, they need the ability to realize good ideas as new products and services, either within the internal product development process or developed externally or acquired.

If at lot of this sounds like what we expected a Chief Innovation Officer to do, you are right, but too often the CIOs are co-opted by existing models and practices and become proficient at building innovation methods and processes that simply augment existing models.  They become, in effect, the Chief Incremental Officer.  With all the pressure to sustain existing models and methods, we need a jester who has real power to create real difference in the organization.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 12:25 PM


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