How to hire a Chief #Innovation Officer #FTW

Innovation

Innovation. We want to innovate. Everyone tells us we need to innovate. Everyone else is innovating and we need to keep up to them. If we don’t innovate we will be left behind. To this end, many companies are hiring Innovation Officers, Innovation Directors, or God forbid a Chief Innovation Officer. Some companies include Innovation in their name hoping to imply they are innovative just by having that name. Governments are adding Innovation to a Ministers Portfolio name in the hopes that they may generate Innovation. Even in my own city, Winnipeg, they hired a Chief Innovation Officer and are trying to innovate.

Problem

So what is the problem? Surely it is a laudable goal to innovate, improve, and excel? Absolutely it is. The unfortunate fact is that the way people are addressing innovation has very little chance for success.

Why

Innovation processes can’t simply be overlaid on a corporate structure that wasn’t innovative in the past and Innovation will occur. In the case of the City of Winnipeg, a call went out for people to submit their ideas and those ideas would be reviewed by the Chief Innovation Officer, the Chef Administration Officer, Chief Corporate Services Officer and Chief Transportation and Utilities Officer.

Oh boy, where do I start on this one? Lets use bullet points:

  • The people at the highest level are talented individuals but probably are not aware of Innovations required throughout the corporation. They are going to miss a ton of great ideas.
  • What is the Strategy that Innovation is required to address? What are the objectives? A general call for Innovation will probably generate a lot of wasted time as Innovations are submitted that aren’t a priority and people will wonder why their submissions weren’t chosen. (Unless a meeting is held to do a retrospective on every submission, but my experience is that doesn’t happen in these Innovation Beauty Contests)
  • If the Culture of the corporation was not open to ideas in the past, people may be hesitant to submit ideas formally via email. Some ideas may highlight inefficient processes that could implicate co-workers. So people are likely to just not respond. (especially if they would implicate supervisors and managers who hold power over them)

How to Innovate

So how would I create an Innovation Culture?

  1. Just that. Realize that it isn’t about generating Innovations in your current corporate structure. Innovation is about a change project to change culture profoundly.
  2. Invite people from across the corporation to participate in the Strategy Creation. If that isn’t feasible, at least communicate the Strategy in a meaningful way after it is decided. (i.e. a face to face meetings and not just sending a Strategy document out for people to read)
  3. Engage the people who are interested in face to face Innovation meetings where groups can submit, discuss, and shape Innovation ideas with their co-workers. These sessions need representation from front-line staff, supervisors, managers, and executives.
  4. Ongoing efforts to create a culture that is a safe culture for new ideas and suggestions. This is important. You can’t have Innovation if you don’t have a culture of Safety. You can’t have an open door for Innovation and a closed-door for everything else.

This would be a start, but it isn’t guarantee. It takes hard work and lots of communication between people and time. But there is no shortcut to Innovation.

Especially hiring a Chief Innovation Officer.

 

 

You just have to work #here #HigherEducation

Here? Specifically? Well kinda.

But I’ve always said that it is best for an individual to have a breadth of work experience. In the past I have mentioned that I felt it was important for a person to have experience in a private company, a government agency, and a consulting company for a least a couple of years each. Each one of these models operate very differently and distinctly. And the interesting things is that no one model is better than any others. Each model has different drivers and priorities that drive their behaviours.

University

I’ve now found a found category to add to the list – University. University is a bit of a mix between Private, Consulting, and Government, but it also has characteristics present in none of them.

University does have the drive to improve and innovate from Private, the challenges of people coaching and change management from Government, and the lack of direct authority in a Consulting environment where you need to rely on the your skills as a facilitator, negotiator, and influencer.

But at University you need to do three models all at the same time and realize two additional truths:

  1. Every Faculty and Department are/can be a company on its own. There are limits to any authority over them so the focus really need to be on bridge-building and selling the benefits of your ideas.
  2. University culture is about questioning. But rather than questioning to show their own knowledge, questioning at University are done to make the idea better. While this can be frustrating, once you realize the questions are following the method of Socratic Questioning,  they are easier to accommodate.

Oh yeah, and with the need to facilitate and influence and answer people’s Socratic Questions, things just take longer….

But the solutions and ideas are really better.

 

A year at University #UManitoba

I have now been employed at the University of Manitoba for over a year now. I’m not sure I knew exactly what I thought it would be like working at a University, but I thought it would be good to reflect on what I have learned over the past year

The first thing that has occurred to me as I look back is that I have never, ever been more proud of where I work. The ability to contribute in some small way to the advancement of education, research, and advancement of the students at the University of Manitoba is truly inspiring. I have always been proud of where I have worked in the past, but most of the time the outcomes assisted large private companies. I just find that isn’t nearly as rewarding as ultimately playing a small part in the educational system.

The University is an environment where ideas are fostered and critical thinking is encouraged. This environment promotes collaboration perhaps more than any other place I have been in. But the University somehow continues to foster collaboration within a structured environment. This should not be minimized, in my experience the introduction of structure usually caused the reduction of collaboration. This is not the case, if anything the structure at the University of Manitoba encourages collaboration and the fostering of ideas. An important factor that contributes to this culture of collaboration is the concept of peer review. Although peer review is commonplace in the research areas, I’ve never been in a work culture where it manifests itself in the entire organization. People actively seek out each others opinion and truly expect feedback and critical review of their ideas that can help to make the ideas better. This ends up making all the ideas the best they can be and helps to make the collaboration enjoyable and without conflict.

That isn’t to say, there aren’t challenges. But a lot of the challenges come from just how large and diverse an organization the university is. Once an issue to identified, the perspective is just focused on what is the best solution is to the issue at hand.

Ultimately, the University of Manitoba is a community and has a culture all its own. I’ve worked in other placing that tried to define their culture and community. I realize now that to have a community and culture you need to have a diverse group of citizens that are all committed to the ultimate goal. For the University of Manitoba, that is education. I also realized that you define culture by thousands if not millions of small, meaningful, thoughtful acts. It is something you can’t create.

I’ve appreciated that the culture of University of Manitoba is defined by millions of meaningful, thoughtful, insightful, professional, and intelligent ideas – repeated.

Oh, and I love working on a campus with historic buildings, green spaces, and co-workers of the same mind…

And geese…. I love the geese…