From the Desk of the CTO: Strategic Innovation

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By Anthony Juliano
CTO & General Partner

It turns out that innovation is one of those funny words that gets tossed around a lot – especially in the world of technology. Let’s break it down a bit.

Many of you have heard me say it before, but my favorite description of innovation is the famous quote by Mark Twain “The definition of a classic is a book that everyone wants to have read, but nobody wants to read.” Innovation in the Enterprise is the same thing.

There are so many companies who create new functional groups that are “Innovation Programs” – but have already lost the battle to innovate by doing so. Innovation is a culture, it should be shared and rewarded – and yet it’s often considered outlandish or ‘too risky.’ In some cases, they may even seem “impossible” – when in reality (to quote the ever-wise Jean-Luc Picard) “Things are only impossible until they’re not!.”

I’ve heard arguments that innovation groups need to be clandestine and isolated from the rest of the organization so as not to poison their thinking – but I honestly think this is also misguided. Ideation is everyone’s job – good ideas come from the strangest places and day-to-day problems arise in every business at every level.

What if your entire enterprise company were actually an innovation group? At least one of you would tell me that ‘nothing would ever get done’ or ‘too many cooks’ and another one of you would tell me ‘too many people would resist.’ And you’d both be right – the Google “20% time to new projects” wasn’t really an organized experiment and it was only incremental in nature.

So in fact, although innovation is a culture and ideation are everyone’s job – the truth is you need to be Strategic to make it all work. Innovation comes from inside and outside – building a culture of reward and acceptance for innovation while making sure the trains run on time is a really difficult job and ironically, it requires heavy-handed process and investment of time/money/effort. And at the end of it, you may not have the wins to show for it – but as one truly innovative CIO told me recently about a conversation with his CEO (who is part owner of a major baseball team) “no one bats a thousand – if you’re above .300 you’re doing great. Your record is well above 300.”

Not everyone has an appreciative management team to support them, but if you treat it like an 80/20 portfolio of investments (80% goes towards the consistent players and projects and 20% goes to startups / innovators / skunkworks projects / new product ideas that will put yourself out of business / etc), I don’t think there’s a single CEO who would fault you for that (and in most cases they’re clamoring for it!).

So at the end of the day, it’s building a funnel of both innovation supply and business demand, the CIO’s job is to do that equation for the sake of company’s future.