There’s one thing upon which IT executives and LOB leaders agree: the CIO plays a critical role in innovation. In recent IDC surveys of IT executives and LOB executives, 45% of LOB executives designated the CIO as an innovation leader, while 41% of IT executives see the CIO as an innovation leader.
How do you as an executive approach innovation? Your company probably innovates in a number of different ways – and your approaches are most likely linked to the results you expect – your business and IT goals. Which is another way of saying that innovation is not a one-size-fits-all term. There are different kinds depending on factors like the nature of your business, competitive pressures to change, how your ecosystem is using digital technologies, and whether your leadership is visionary or cautious and so on.
With innovation, “Positive thinking rules.” When blue-sky or brain-storming conversations are under way, you’ve got to get rid of 'but' statements. Make a rule that you’re only allowed to say ‘and’ to build on the last idea. It’s a lot harder than you think. And get the naturally positive people together. They don't think 'but,' they think ‘how’.
A recent IDC study notes the experience of Jabil Circuit’s CIO Gary Cantrell, whose favorite technique for finding creative free-thinkers is to show up early at group meetings with staffers from various parts of Jabil’s IT organization. He starts bantering about some intriguing new technology he’s recently read about, and notices who responds with questions and ideas of their own. “Those very inquisitive folks — who may not even be identified as the most creative — they’ll be the ones who will go off and do more research,” the CIO says. “They stand out over time.”
Vail Resorts’ CIO Robert Urwiler is a longtime fan of the proof-of-concept approach, using small dedicated teams to test out new ideas. “You take a few thousand dollars, a handful of creative people, and set up in a lab. Then you might try it out in the field and see if you’re on to something.”
As Urwiler says of IT innovators: “Every organization has a handful of people who are wired for this. They are the “go-to” folks when we need to think differently about solving a problem.” His interview process with IT candidates always includes a discussion about the importance of creativity. “What I’m looking for is that ability to look at our processes and systems through a different lens,” he explains. “Sure, 99% of IT is about keeping the trains running -- but my objective is to weave innovation into our culture.”
He is a longtime fan of the proof-of-concept approach, using small dedicated teams to test out new ideas. “You take a few thousand dollars, a handful of creative people, and set up in a lab. Then you might try it out in the field and see if you’re on to something.”
Guidance for creating game-changing innovation?
- Keep the naysayers out of your brainstorming sessions and get naturally positive people together.
- Make rewards and recognitions very visible — especially for ideas that don’t pan out.
- Send your IT staffers to non-IT conferences to broaden their business awareness and marketing knowledge.
- Assign someone to track and manage the flow of potentially innovative ideas and technologies.
For more information, please refer to IDC’s series on innovation strategies, including Innovation Strategies: Part 1 — Creating a Balanced Enterprise Innovation Portfolio Based on Business/IT Goals, IDC, on IDC.com.
And please tune-in on-demand for a complimentary web conference on five competencies to enable IT-led innovation.