Is Your CEO Serious About Innovation? 10 Questions to Ask.

 
October 7th, 2013

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My friend and Boston Globe innovation columnist, Scott Kirsner, has launched an interesting new on-line platform for corporate innovation executives. You will want to check out and subscribe to Innovation Leader where you will find lots of food for innovation thought and where this post originally appeared.

I used to think that if I just yakked long and loud enough, I could convince CEOs to embrace transformational innovation. It took me 25 years as a road warrior consultant, author, and accidental government bureaucrat to realize that proselytizing doesn’t work. If leaders don’t want to change, all the consulting jargon and fancy PowerPoints in the world won’t convince them to.

In those situations, no matter what lofty rhetoric the CEO uses in public or at company retreats about “creating an innovation culture” and encouraging everyone to think outside of the box, the best result you can hope for are incremental innovations to improve the performance of today’s business model. You never get transformational new business models — and you always get frustrated if you were hoping for bolder change. If you want transformational innovation, you have to find leaders who want transformational change and are receptive to organizing differently for tweaks than for transformation. After learning this lesson the hard way over many years, I no longer try to convince CEOs who don’t want to change, and instead try to find those CEO’s who do.

Here’s my list of 10 questions you can ask a CEO to tell if they are really serious about transformational innovation:

1) Do you agree transformational innovation goes beyond breakthrough products to include business model innovation — entirely new ways to create, deliver and capture value?
2) Will your employees tell me that failure is a career-limiting move, or that the company celebrates experimentation?
3) How much time do you spend strengthening and protecting the current business model, versus designing the next one?
4) Do you have clear and discrete objectives for both incremental and transformational innovation? Do you organize differently for each?
5) Does your organization invest in R&D for new business models as it does for new products, services, and technologies?
6) Are you prepared to have your organization disrupt itself? How do you see that playing out?
7) Do internal ideas and projects that threaten to cannibalize the current business model get squashed — or nurtured?
8) Do you have a process for allocating resources for transformational innovation projects that lies outside of the control of business units?
9) Do executives with responsibility for exploring transformational business models report to you, or to another line executive responsible for today’s business?
10) Are you willing to create a sandbox to explore transformational business models? Would you carve out a part of your current business/market to serve as an ongoing real-world innovation lab?

A few words of advice about using these questions in the real world… Tread lightly, since no CEO likes to be put on the spot and drilled with a laundry list of questions. Pick a few of the ten to put into your own words to help you discern whether the company you work for, or are thinking about working for (or with), has a leader who shares your appetite for transformational innovation. Better to know what kind of environment you’re going into in advance than to learn painful lessons later.

7 Responses to “Is Your CEO Serious About Innovation? 10 Questions to Ask.”

  1. 11. When approaching Open Innovation, do you “drill before digging”? Or are you a modern-day hydraulic miner?

    The promise of Open Innovation.
    (photo, handful of gold nuggets)

    Over the past six months I have had the honor of meeting with hundreds of “innovation executives” from around the world.

    While their goals and objectives are similar, I have been struck by the disparity in approaches…and quality of their results.

    Perhaps the most striking comparison between the most and least successful innovation executives can be drawn between the
    two types of gold miners on Discovery Channel’s hugely-successful reality series, Gold Rush, where inexperienced miners sift
    through huge volumes of earth in the hope of extracting gold nuggets – reminiscent of the hydraulic mining techniques employed
    in the California and Klondike eras gold rushes and, while labor intensive and environmentally destructive, still used today in
    many parts of the world.

    (photo – Hydraulic Mining, circa 1850 – 1870…similar to today’s most common approach to Open Innovation exploration).

    And then there’s Klondike mining legend Tony Beets whose success is directly correlated with his approach: “Drill before Digging”.

    Rather than processing huge volumes of earth in the hope of finding gold, Tony focuses his efforts exclusively on the locations that he definitively knows to hold large gold reserves. And the results speak for themselves.

    (photo – Tony Beets explains the importance of drilling – to know what you’ll earn before digging). (c) Discovery Channel

    Open Innovation Exploration: Are you Tony Beets, or a hydraulic miner?

    Innovation executives have many alternatives to meet startup entrepreneurs who might possibly deliver game-changing innovation.

    There are hundreds of startup incubators, accelerators and innovation conferences and thousands of “pitch events” to meet many of the 100,000 active startups – with more being founded every day. And, while nuggets are occasionally discovered, there are few demonstrable success stories of commercial partnerships, investments or acquisitions that have yielded the type of game-changing innovation that CEOs demand.

    The challenge facing innovation executives is how to emulate Tony Beets and avoid the trap of becoming modern-day hydraulic miners.

    It makes absolutely no financial sense for a corporate innovation executive to attempt to sift through the ever-expanding mountains of startups in the hope of identifying prospective innovation partners. Your time, energy and financial resources are much better spent “acting” on prospective game-changing commercial partnerships and investments — and making them hugely successful.

    The most successful innovation executives I have met emulate Tony Beets. They focus time, energy and financial resources on partnership formation and deal-closing activities with high-quality startups who can deliver game-changing innovation, rather than exploring for common innovation nuggets. In Tony Beets’ language, they “Drill before Digging” and dig only in the richest ground where results are predictable and sustainable.

    The RocketSpace Difference: Real Value, Real Results for Blue Chip Brands.

    At RocketSpace, our Corporate Innovation Program team acts as your drilling partner, an extension of your corporate development, business development, and strategic marketing teams, actively surveying the world to identify the very best startups for commercial partnerships, investments and acquisition.

    (Link – RocketSpace Innovation Summit, 9-10 September).

    http://rocket-space.com/highlights-from-2nd-annual-open-innovation-summit/

    (Link – RocketSpace Innovation Summit video on YouTube).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGeZIGfUBeg

    Work SMARTer: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-Bound.

    Our success rate is north of 65% meaning that, at the conclusion of an Active Discovery “drilling” engagement, our recommendations for commercial partnership, investment and acquisition are accepted – and acted upon – more than two-thirds of the time.

    RocketSpace facilitated 36 commercial partnerships and 9 acquisitions in 2012…and, in 2013, we’re delivering even more value!

    An Open Invitation for Open Innovation.

    You are cordially invited to bring your Innovation Team to RocketSpace – meet our Innovation team, share thoughts with fellow innovation professionals – members of our Corporate Innovation Program – and explore areas to “Drill before Digging”.

    Thank you, fellow innovation executive, for the opportunity to be of service!

    Best always,

    Scott Armanini
    415.999.4700

    About the author
    An instructor at Cal (Leadership for Entrepreneurs) and 25-year veteran of the information technology industry, Scott Armanini leads sales and business development for RocketSpace’s Corporate Innovation Program – bringing game-changing innovation to market.

    http://www.linkedin.com/pub/scott-armanini/1/ba/876/

  2. [...] If you want transformational innovation, you have to find leaders who want transformational change and are receptive to organizing differently for tweaks than for transformation. After learning this lesson the hard way over many years, I no longer try to convince CEOs who don’t want to change, and instead try to find those CEO’s who do.  [...]

  3. [...] If you want transformational innovation, you have to find leaders who want transformational change and are receptive to organizing differently for tweaks than for transformation. After learning this lesson the hard way over many years, I no longer try to convince CEOs who don’t want to change, and instead try to find those CEO’s who do.Here’s my list of 10 questions you can ask a CEO to tell if they are really serious about transformational innovation.  [...]

  4. [...] RT @Trep_Ed: Is Your CEO Serious About #Innovation? 10 Questions to Ask. http://t.co/y9eGEf2h2b @skap5  [...]

  5. Jonas says:

    excellent post, bookmarked!

  6. [...] Here’s my list of 10 questions you can ask a CEO to tell if they are really serious about transformational innovation:1) Do you agree transformational innovation goes beyond breakthrough products to include business model innovation — entirely new ways to create, deliver and capture value? 2) Will your employees tell me that failure is a career-limiting move, or that the company celebrates experimentation? 3) How much time do you spend strengthening and protecting the current business model, versus designing the next one? 4) Do you have clear and discrete objectives for both incremental and transformational innovation? Do you organize differently for each? 5) Does your organization invest in R&D for new business models as it does for new products, services, and technologies? 6) Are you prepared to have your organization disrupt itself? How do you see that playing out? 7) Do internal ideas and projects that threaten to cannibalize the current business model get squashed — or nurtured? 8) Do you have a process for allocating resources for transformational innovation projects that lies outside of the control of business units? 9) Do executives with responsibility for exploring transformational business models report to you, or to another line executive responsible for today’s business? 10) Are you willing to create a sandbox to explore transformational business models? Would you carve out a part of your current business/market to serve as an ongoing real-world innovation lab?  [...]

  7. [...] Is Your CEO Serious About Innovation? 10 Questions to Ask. Blog: It’s Saul Connected [...]

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