A CTO’s Reflections and Questions on Innovation Culture, Open Innovation


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I recently did a session for a fairly large company (about 10,000 employees) in the U.S. The key topics covered were innovation culture and open innovation. You can find the presentation I used here: Unleashing the Power of Intrapreneurs and Innovators

The CTO was in charge of the session, which was also attended by his team and other employees with a strong interest in innovation in the company. It should be noted that this group seems to think that the company need to upgrade their innovation capabilities and perhaps move from an R&D mindset to a more holistic approach on innovation. They were probably more “up-to-date” in their thinking than most of their colleagues.

I thought it might be interesting for you to know what reflections and questions come to mind in the head of an CTO and his team, when they are engage in a 3-hour long discussion on the topics of innovation culture and open innovation.

Here we go with an excerpt of their notes:

• How do we allow time for innovation? Engineers get an idea during project execution, and that is when we really need them to further develop the idea. Will they get the time to do so later?

• Metrics driven culture. Innovation is hard to measure. Many people have given up on measuring this. The inability to measure innovation is an obstacle for results-oriented companies.

• Can we drive innovation by posing challenges? This would be in contrast with having engineers work on their self-generated ideas.

• Do we need a clean-sheet approach for breakthrough innovation?

• How do we deal with resistance in the organization?

• Does our company have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)? Should our corporate innovation team have one by itself?

• Raising awareness and recognition of Innovation related issues at the highest levels in the company. What are the messages we want to convey? Follow up with proof-points.

• Cannot predict when innovation will happen. Can create the framework and conditions for it. Promote quick cycles of learning.

• Two kinds of innovation: 1) Incremental innovation – used for neutralizing a threat from a competitor. 2) Shoot for the stars innovation. Be careful about trying out too many of these.

• Are we properly organized for innovation?

• Do we have a definition of innovation? Is it important to have a single definition? (Probably not). But it is important to have a common language for innovation. If we were to ask our employees what “innovation” means, would they know how to respond? Would they know how to distinguish between innovation and something else? One benefit of having a definition or framework around innovation is that once agreed upon, then it “kills” the resistance from the naysayers.

• Can we make the topic of innovation a top of mind issue for our company? What are the gaps and opportunities?

• Do we have an elevator pitch for innovation? What is our understanding of it?

• New generation of executives take innovation more seriously. Innovation is taught as a stand-alone discipline. Is our leadership team sufficiently versed in this new discipline?

• The leadership teams in most companies are seasoned (they have succeeded and this is why the are where they are today). They will have a preference and bias toward the ways that brought about their success during their careers. Are the “old ways” still applicable for success in today’s world?

• If a leader has been successful in the past, they will naturally ask: “why should I do things differently going forward”? Board of Directors are usually retired CEOs or former high level leaders. They are less inclined to be agents of change.

• How do we educate our leaders in the new disciplines of innovation? One form is to create peer to peer relationships with other executives.

• Networking needs a purpose. We need better networkers. Do we have the time to network? Networking expands opportunities and brings diversity. Networking can also enhance speed.

• Need to be fast and learn from failures. Need to embrace failures. Distinction between honorable failures and “stupid” failures. Does our company embrace failures? What behavior would we expect to see when we embrace honorable failures?

• What are our value pools? Which ones are most important? Startups?

• Open Innovation. Many companies have overcome the issues around IP concerns. Many IP teams want to minimize risks. This may become contrary to the purposes of open innovation. Need to “compromise”.

• C+D: Connect and Develop. More diversity. Speeds up innovation. There is no blue-print for the implementation of this.

• In open innovation, we have “drivers”. We want to be in the driver’s seat.

• Transition innovation from an event to a capability and then to a culture.

• Discovery, Incubation, Acceleration…. Apply different people according to their strengths. People, Process, Ideas.

• Concept of the T: breadth and depth in a specific area.

• How do engineers who have new ideas bring these up to the attention of their management? Do we have a structured way for this?

• We need to learn more about innovation. Training on innovation. Upgrading of our skills.

• How can we use social media (like Twitter) for innovation efforts?

• What is our tolerance for failure? Reward learning behaviors. Use the failure as a learning opportunity.

I found it quite interesting to get this list of reflections and questions from a CTO and his team in a larger, US-based company. I hope you found some food for thought here as well.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


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