Wednesday, May 18, 2011

FEI2011 - Chief Innovation Officer Panel


I found this morning’s Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) panel especially fascinating. CIOs from Walgreens, Dell, Chubb and Humana shared their insights and experiences with the FEI audience. Here’s a snapshot of the questions and some of the answers from the panel:

Q: With the inherent difficulty of managing the day-to-day, how do you create a capacity that also focuses on the new?

Dell: Telling and translating stories that will stay in people’s minds will keep in particular executives from going off on tangents; Balance urgent with important.

Humana: Urgency is a day-to-day reality. Unless there are separate resources set aside, the first chop comes to innovation and market research, things not essential to the day-to-day survival. Top management has to have buy-in, protecting the innovation capability. Innovation has to make itself very relevant to the daily business – it has to have significant linkage to the business realities not just the long-term goals.

Chubb: History is written by the winners – look back at historic success stories to glean insights and translate for the new.

Walgreens: Recognize that a lot of innovation will happen at skunkworks level. Set yourself up to do a lot of the work under the radar screen – start some stuff that’s headed in the right direction, but not necessarily lobbed up in front of senior management. If you scare senior leadership they tend to pay more attention – set a competitor up as a villain and they’ll be more inclined to allocate resources, and/or set strategic stakes to strive for before really knowing how to get there, which obligates the organization to innovation. In short, make the future so compelling that it can’t be ignored, play to human behavior.

Q: Senior Management doesn’t get it, what should I do?

Dell: Use stories. Start with customers coming back to innovation group telling their own story, and then have the innovation group go to senior management conveying that story, then senior leadership will pay more attention.

Chubb: Do a mature, emotionally intelligent size-up. There are politics at play – find the problems that executives have passion around and play to those.

Walgreens: Ask how they think about innovation. Do almost mini-VC pitches to engage management.

Q: How do you organize for breakthrough?

Walgreens: We created a very lean innovation function to act as catalyst for innovation in the rest of the organization. Also created an internal consulting capability that does training – evangelizing innovation throughout organization. Also, we immerse operators in sessions – get them to be better customers of our product – and then we rotate through innovation team and operations.

Humana: Innovation is not a standalone function. We placed ours in conjunction with marketing to move money easily across, and provide the opportunity to redeploy resources, both monetary and personnel. Infusing into innovation group business folks with a bent for out-of-the-box thinking, leads to both commercialization of innovation and traditional creative thinking. We provide on-the-job training immersed in business and innovation departments to understand both more deeply.

Dell: We focus on education, changing the way people think about our industry, our services. Our secret sauce is having the whole organization have an innovation mindset. We can’t just be a fast follower as we move from product to service. But we have no classic breakthrough focus, the IT space is just too dynamic.

Chubb: To be successful in breakthrough, you have got to have cadres throughout the organization. We have internal business school classes that focus on innovation. We put “students” to work on real BU challenges, so they have hands-on experience in execution.

Q: What prevents you getting to breakthrough?

Dell: At the end of the day you’re playing house odds in the casino, betting that one of ten will pay for the rest. What you can’t do is kill the group after 5 die.

Walgreens: Solve through structure. It is constantly changing. What’s going to work is revisiting structure following strategy 12 months from now.

Chubb: The variables change constantly.

Walgreens: Talent can be built around and ultimately drives businesses.

Humana: Symbolic acknowledgement of innovation is critical to the organization. Must have top-tier commitment and buy-in, budgets that are sacrosanct. For us, the philosophy now has to seep into next level of management.

Dell: Creation, selection and execution of ideas are the three main phases of innovation. Each piece is a different operational unit/level, and has to know how it fits in the whole as well as what its role is.



- Clay Maxwell (@bizinovationist)


Clay is a Business Innovationist with Creative Realities, an innovation strategy consulting firm. He is a frequent contributor to their Innovationist Blog where all things innovation are discussed. You can find out more about Creative Realities at www.creativerealities.com

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