10 Innovation Steps For CEOs

As I’ve described in the 6 new management imperatives, senior executives need to turn innovation into a continuous process. This is even more important in this economic downturn where innovation is sorely needed, but can be easily ignored during cut-backs.

In a book called Innovating at the Top: How global CEOs drive innovation for growth and profit, researchers at INSEAD examined the innovation efforts at nine corporations: 3M, Research in Motion, Genentech, Unilever, SAP, Bosch, Nokia, Infosys and Toyota. The research uncovered ten innovation drivers:

  1. Appoint the CEO as the innovation champion
  2. Celebrate an innovation culture
  3. Engage more innovation partners by sharing knowledge
  4. Organise diversity to promote positive friction and cross-fertilisation
  5. Use customer needs to drive simultaneous R&D and Business Model Innovation
  6. Set high-quality standards and demanding challenges
  7. Encourage youth and keep a challenger mentality
  8. Appoint appropriate decision-makers and encourage transparent information-sharing
  9. Use processes judiciously
  10. Incentivise people to innovate continuously

Given my focus on customer-centricity, I really enjoyed these quotes:

Innovation, based on the needs (of customers), is faster, cheaper and a more dependable approach.
     – Fujio Cho, chairman of Toyota Motor

Unless our researchers realise what the outside world is and what is happening in the trenches, their innovations will have no value for the customer.
     – N.R. Narayana Murthy, chairman of Infosys

The bottom line: A recession is a great time NOT to forget about innovation.

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

9 thoughts on “10 Innovation Steps For CEOs”

  1. Top of everyone’s list for innovation (and many other company initiatives) is “appoint the CEO as champion of innovation/HR/marketing/quality/delete/add as appropriate”. I wonder what these CEO’s are doing with their time when they could be championing all these good causes?
    For sure, they need to be believers but in my mind it is more important that they are not barriers. It is unusual to have a CEO like Steve Jobs who is the innovator and leader of the business and although he is held up as a great example he is one in a million. many CEO’s will believe in innovation but need their team to make it happen.
    This is why I say they must not be barriers. They may not know how to make it happen but it doesn’t stop them creating an environment where it can.

    1. Hi Paul: I agree with your observation. The first answer for anything often seems to be: Get the CEO on board. A key lesson, though, is that there’s a great deal of value (sometimes just symbolic) on what the CEO choses to focus his/her attention. And, if they focus on too many things, then it’s like they’ve chosen to focus on nothing. Your last sentence captures nicely the point in my Management Imperative #3: Turn Innovation Into A Continuous Process. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    1. Kasper: Great question. The list came from the book Innovating at the Top: How Global CEOs Drive Innovation for Growth and Profit, but I read about it on the INSEAD Website. So I don’t have the details on exactly what the authors of the list were thinking. But my guess is that they meant that too miuch structure can kill creativity. So you need to allow some freedom for your people to discover new innovations. For instance, I just wrote about how Intuit allows its employees to use 10% of their time as “unstructured time” to look for innovations.

  2. Excellent post, thank you!

    I have been in the customer-centric business for 17 years which includes lots of innovations and I can certain attest to the power of these disciplines. I recently had many convos with an innovation expert – we are totally in sync, because innovation is deeply rooted in identifying and meeting customers’ needs.

    Aside from Google, I would love to see how companies really apply this innovation evangelism especially during the current economic climate and change of management models. Do you have more case studies?


    1. Evelyn: I am also seeing convergence of thinking between innovation and customer experience. To some degree, I think it’s the recognition that there’s a lot of power in the concept of design solutions (see my posts Good Design Saves Lives In The UK and Design Solutions Can Improve Society).

      I have not done any formal research on how the recession is impacting innovation, but I am about to publish some research that shows that spending on customer experience should be more resilient than spending in other areas (everything ends up getting cut back in this enviornment, so it’s a matter of how much). Yesterday at the Net Promoter conference, I heard Intuit’s CEO say how they give employees 10% of their time for innovation. We should all keep our eyes open for good innovation case studies in this economic downturn.

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