Latest News What challenges are facing Chief Innovation Officers right now? (Part 1)

October 28th 2015

You could say the same challenges they faced last year and the year before that! In truth however, the reality is more nuanced, because Innovation comes in as many shapes as the businesses that employ them!

What challenges are facing Chief Innovation Officers right now? (Part 1)

So, if you manage innovation, the chances are you’ll recognise the key challenges discussed at last week’s Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) Summit. Held over two days in London, the evergreen topics of “an unsupportive company culture”, “people who resist change” and “strategies for achieving top management support” were high on delegate’s lists of pain points.

Pleasingly the event organisers took the stance that innovation is now a prerequisite for business survival and growth, meaning that much of our attention was drawn to the strategic opportunities (and threats) brought about by rapid market change. As a result, discussions automatically focussed on ‘How to innovate’ and not just ‘Why innovate?’

The case in point was illustrated early on by Mariana Southern, Head of Innovation at bookmakers William Hill who, in a presentation entitled ‘Muddling Through’, noted that “innovation is particularly hard because, all the pain is today and all of the payback is tomorrow”. She also drew attention to the trap of failing to constantly question your business model, a scenario that many a successful company (and industry) has fallen fowl of in recent years.

Of course it’s extremely difficult to innovate a business model from within, as it almost always creates significant change. Representing Philips, a company that now derives just 23% of revenues from consumer electronics, Paul Gardien summed up the challenge by saying that Renewing organizations is becoming more and more important and hence the continuing need for a ‘Head of Innovation’”.

As a company that’s always understood the journey from opportunity discovery to product commercialisation, Paul shared some genuine insights into what innovation means for Philips. And, in the case of their medical product development, that’s meant a shift away from healthcare to a much more holistic and personalised ‘human care’ business. For anyone who doubts how seriously they take this transformation, there’s a great video here:



Like Kevin Palazzolo, Director of Innovation at Starwood, and Yaron Kopel, Chief Innovation Officer at SodaStream before him, Paul highlighted the fact that innovating new ideas is generally not the problem, its monetizing those ideas that’s critical to success, and when you’re tasked with designing whole experience ‘ecosystems’ that involve elements of product and service provision, there’s a cultural shift that requires innovation to become a mindset that’s considered by everyone (whether they’re working at the front door, or up on the top floor).

This brings us on to a final point that both sums up our learning from the event, and highlights a key challenge being faced Chief Innovation Officers today. For breakaway innovation efforts to succeed, it’s ALL about the culture you create. So while you’re responsible for leading the charge, it’s others who’ll need to be given the freedom and trust to actually make things happen.

One presenter captured this by simply re-phrasing Peter Drucker’s famous phrase that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” to suggest that, when innovating; “Culture eats everything for breakfast!” And, assuming it takes about three years to get an innovation strategy and culture aligned, that means an effective CIO needs to focus an increasing amount of time on finding collaborative ways to knit people and things together. If you’ve not yet dispelled the myth that innovation comes from a heroic lightbulb moment in your organisation, now is a good time to start!

Assuming you’re already getting your strategy and culture aligned, the remaining elephant in the room that every CIO must face is the fact that, scaling fundamental new businesses can take years! Returning to Mariana’s earlier point, time to succeed is not always a luxury the CIO has in abundance. So what was the best advice on speeding things up in your organisation? Here’s just a few of the many suggestions from the floor:

  • Develop an open ear, ensure you become more open to ambiguity and ok with failure (ideally early in your development process).
  • If you don’t have the time or budget to revolutionise what you do, do more to put existing company assets and expertise to work in adjacent markets (whether or not you’re currently active in them).
  • Spend more time on understanding the real core of your business and find good partners who’ll take care of the rest.

If none of those appeal there’s always the option to follow the last of the “13 lessons for Successful Innovation” described by former head of Innovation at the Royal Mail, Nigel Pendleton “Hope to get Lucky…”


PART 2 will focus on the role of Design in relation to the Chief Innovation Officer Challenge.


Starwood’s Butler Robot pilot is an outcome from their focus on Operational Innovation to ensure that the real people in the business have as much time as possible to make the customer experience unique.
In Innovation Culture is critical – A stark reminder comes in the form of this real street sign in Birmingham (UK) ‘Invention Avenue’ which is ironically a ‘Cul – De – Sac’!

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