Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Chief Creativity Officer

In my past posts, I have discussed how companies can think strategically about innovation, generate a plan for kickstarting innovation, get in a creative mindset, and bring on the right people.  The question that remains, however, is who should manage innovation in the company.

(Photo: Sean MacEntee)
I have read multiple tales of companies who have Chief Innovation Officers (CINOs), but  a recent study shows that CINO efforts tend to fall short.  By definition, CINOs focus on breakthrough innovation, and are primed to identify and manage opportunities in that realm.  I want to suggest a departure from that model and propose a different position with a different set of responsibilities: The Chief Creativity Officer (CCO)[1].

Importantly, the creation of a CCO gets creativity and innovation in the C-suite right from the start[2], and provides innovation endeavors with a champion in upper management and the chance for an operating budget to support creative works.  Using this high-level position, the CCO can initialize firm/division/department-wide endeavors to promote innovation, including conventions, retreats, brainstorming sessions[3], and FedEx Days (now called ShipIt Days).

But, in addition to interfacing with senior management, the CCO needs to interface with two other groups: human resources and the employees themselves.  On the HR side, the CCO needs to keep abreast of employee engagement[4], workforce planning (hiring talent), and promoting a strong company culture[5] that promotes opportunities for innovation.

Rather than getting into the intricate details of these matters, the CCO takes the 50,000-foot view on making sure that employees are not just passionate about their work, but working in a company that promotes passion.  The CCO also works with the head of HR to lay out the important features to seek out in future hires, and to promote in current employees (and the double-entendre of "promote" is intentional!).

While the head of HR is meant to be the person who deals with general workforce planning and employee issues on a day-to-day basis, the CCO still needs to be in the trenches constantly to get an understanding of where creativity and innovation can and cannot flow freely.  For example, this involves inviting employees to meetings to get a clear picture of how well management is facilitating the company culture and enabling employees to do their best work and seek out innovations[6].  For another example, CCO's can modify company policies and procedures to help do things like streamline workflows, give employees the resources and training they need[7], and help management keep employees happy[8].

Ultimately, the idea is to make sure that employees are able to use their creative capacities on the job both in terms of the day-to-day tasks that they do and the new ideas they are capable of generating.

Perhaps doing this many tasks seems a bit much for one person's job, but that's exactly the point!  In most companies, the tasks that a CCO should be performing are usually done halfway or not at all by lower-level people who have limited authority in the firm.  Instead of this, there should be someone whose full-time job is making sure that the company is optimally poised to be creative and innovative.  As has been noted throughout the FEI Blog, innovation must be a firm-wide endeavor that extends through the C-suite to every employee in the company.  As such, there needs to be someone to manage the entire process, namely the Chief Creativity Officer.

Orin's Asides

1) While some entertainment and other creative-based product companies have a Chief Creative Officer (instead of a "creative director"), and it is abbreviated CCO, the role is more about project management than promoting creativity.  I aim to build upon the entertainment industry's conception and propose an expansion of the construct with a slightly-altered name for the adjusted idea.
2) As Peter Koen noted, this is critical.
3) Gregg Fraley has a great set of articles about brainstorming (and see the related articles at the bottom of his posts).
4) There are a bunch of ways to define this, but John Gibbons's two papers with The Conference Board are some of the best pieces on employee engagement that I have seen to date.
5) Which I discussed in detail here.
6) You might say that part of this is about enforcing Bob Sutton's No Asshole Rule.
7) This includes things like flex-time and telecommuting options!
8) I would be remiss if I did not mention the brilliant idea of having a Chief Happiness Officer (for example).


Orin C. Davis is the first person to earn a doctorate in positive psychology. His research focuses on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring, and it spans both the workplace and daily life. He is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and a freelance consultant who helps companies maximize their human capital and become better places to work.


Jack Hipple said...

This is an interesting concept but let's not forget that freedom to create what already exists does not necessarily increase productivity. To me the role of what is sometimes called the Chielf Learning Officer is far more important. Teaching people how to learn from others, especially those in parallel, possibly seemingly unrelated fields, is critical. This requires people and organizations to stop using special language and jargon that makes them think their problems and challenges are unique, which is rarely the case.

Orin said...

Jack, the CLO, while incredibly under-utilized, is a different role, and is often more related to knowledge-management in most firms (though I agree that a CLO should be focused on learning from others, as well). I would contend that most of the functions and results you are suggesting should be an inherent part of the company culture. The jargon, uniqueness, et cetera, is perceived by some to be related to the brand (for example, consider how Starbucks branded well-known coffee concoctions with their own terms -- it took me quite a while to get used to ordering a "misto" instead of "cafe au lait"). Ironically, as you note, it distances customers from the company and vice versa. I suggest that a CCO would encourage companies like Starbucks to spend time engaging a culture that connects the coffee and the customers (which is why many coffee drinkers are increasingly turning to local cafes).

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