What to Tell the CEO About Innovation

by Roy Luebke

What to Tell the CEO About InnovationA colleague recently asked me an interesting question: If you only had a few minutes to get the CEO’s attention about innovation, what would you say? This is the ultimate condensed message, and it must be made for each individual organization.

After reflecting a bit on the question, my main thought would be to say that innovation itself is about creating something new that generates economic value. That said, innovation can be about more than the product or service definition alone and is a key driver to achieve the company’s business strategy.

Secondly, to create something new we need to start by finding opportunities which are discovered through a process that can be used to farm customer motivators. The discovery process needs to go across the company with any eye turned outside the organization to find new ways to provide new things for customers to benefit from.

Next, that the objective of an innovation process is not to have an uber-team that is charged with coming up with all the next-generation ideas, but is to enable the entire company to create new value. This process needs to be continual in order to keep building on the findings to create stronger customer offerings over time.

The purpose of an innovation process is to know more about your customers every day. It isn’t enough to just follow the relevant trends, but to notice the changes in the trends. That leads to opportunity discovery.

Finally, it is a lot of hard work. It is not just idea generation but is a focused, systematic effort to develop new insights about customers and find new ways to meet customer motivations. Using a set of structured tools, methods and approaches will help to identify, categorize and prioritize new business concepts that can be evaluated for investment potential. Investments will ultimately have better returns if they are grounded in delivering real value to your chosen set of customers and markets.

What could be more simple than that?

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Roy LuebkeRoy Luebke is an innovation expert focused on discovering new, customer-driven opportunity areas to help define the future of a company. He is inspired by knowledge and learning, and applying structured tools and methods at the crossroads of strategy and innovation to achieve business growth.

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  1. Hi Roy,

    I am not sure you will get the CEO’s attention on this approach. It is too general and too vague. I think you need to get the CEO to think about the role innovation should have as a tool to reach the company’s general goals and objectives as stated in their long term strategy.

    The question to ask: How can innovation – the process and its outcomes – help us reach our corporate goals – and thus make you look good in front of the board and the shareholders?

    OK, the last part can be stated in a more subtle way, but we need to focus on how the CEO him or herself can benefit from innovation if he or she has not yet bought into innovation.

    If you ask such a question to a CEO you need to be well prepared when he replies: Interesting. You’re right. Do you have any suggestions on how to do this?

    This is where innovation executives and directors need to prove they can deliver….

    Stefan

  2. Hi Roy.

    Your post made me think about the times we’ve had the chance to speak to senior executives about innovation. What worries them about innovation is that it seems too unstructured or unfocused, but they recognize the power innovation can deliver. So, rather than talk about innovation, we talk about solving key challenges or attacking new opportunities that are important to the CEO using innovation as a set of tools and techniques. One of my favorite quotes from Einstein is that we can’t solve new problems using our existing tools (this is a paraphrase).

    So, in just a few minutes with a CEO I like to understand their most important issues or opportunities and explain how to align innovation as a new set of tools or techniques to address those opportunities or challenges to bring new, relevant and beneficial ideas to life quickly.

  3. I think I would share a couple of thoughts:

    1. Innovation is a leadership challenge. (climate)

    2. Ideas are easy.

    3. Execution is where most fail.

    4. Innovation requires engagement by executives

  4. Nice post Roy. I would also think that when approaching a CEO, you can best grab their attention with a quick spiel about how you are going to use a new method to improve a process/technique that has challenged the company for some time. Having cold hard figures of how much this innovation will save/bring in wouldn’t hurt either!

  5. I believe one of the shortest ways to frame up what innovation is to simply say, “Innovation solves problems.”

    We have been doing that since the dawn of time. It’s one of the things that separates us from other species. Everyone is capable of solving problems.

    But what makes a good innovator or good innovation project is the ability to identify the right problem. Then solving the right problem brings economic value.

  6. Thanks Chris. I agree that problem framing is critical. That said, I encourage people to think “solve problems for customers.”

    This can then be interpreted as opportunities with a positive view rather than problems which carry an negative view.

    Any internal “problem” should be viewed with the customer in mind, i.e. by applying resources to the matter at hand how is it creating customer value.

    This may seem a bit picky, but this simple modification changes the internal conversations. It helps move people from thinking about operational issues/efficiency and moving toward customers/effectiveness. That is a big change within many companies.

  7. I’d say innovation is a mindset and not a process and that people should rbe ewarded for innovative ideas and execution without a focus on whether or not the idea succeeds.

    People say – ‘ideas are easy but implementing them is hard’. I don’t completely agree. Good ideas aren’t that easy. Implementing them doesn’t need to be that hard.

    The big issue is having leadership at the top that is diverse (that means different skill sets and ideas) and forward-looking while obviously managing risk.

    The current platitude is ‘be agile’ but it’s critical for relevance. I think retail in Australia tells the tale of those who dug in the heels, amongst others.

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