Friday, September 26, 2008

Why your CEO needs to support innovation initiatives

I am on a roll at the moment on innovation in corporations.

There is a universal success factor that applies to all corporates I have talked with who have had some success with corporate innovation programmes.

The CEO has to support it.

The reason is simple.

Any innovation programme that is undertaken within a corporate is disruptive by nature. It usually arrives at products or services that cannibalise existing product and service revenues. By implication it threatens the certainty and security of the remuneration package that people currently enjoy. 

Naturally people respond - they try to remove what it is that is threatening their security. Consciously or unconsciously, innovation initiatives are constantly attacked from within. Call it organ rejection if you like.

This is where the CEO comes in. 

He or she does not have to 'get' innovation, but they have a role in ensuring it has enough oxygen to survive. That it doesn't get slowly suffocated by the inertia / momentum of the 'here and now' business.

This means setting up a structure where as few as possible senior decision makers are involved in the process of deciding which ideas that are spawned from the innovation programme are taken forward into development.

This is something I found personally very difficult in my role in running Telecom's innovation programme. My preferred approach is to enrol as many people as possible in assessing an idea to get buy-in. That doesn't work when you are asking the turkeys to vote for Christmas (no offence intended by use of the term 'turkey' - honest!). You can (and should) share the ideas around and solicit them from everywhere, but the actual decision making needs to be held very tightly.

The CEO has to support this type of very tight structure. Otherwise it's a worthless investment and just frustrates everyone.

So I was super pleased to see this tweet from @gnat yesterday. 

@gripnostril and I met w/ the CEO of Telecom today. He is bigtime clueful, grokked Foo Camp faster than anyone I've ever explained it to.

He has been working with @gripnostril to get some time with Paul Reynolds, Telecom CEO, to pitch the idea of a foocamp style event for Telecom NZ.

Paul has supported the concept but they needed to get some facetime with him to see if he *really* supported it. 

He does. Bodes well for the long-term survival of the company IMHO.

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