The “I” in CIO stands for many things: information, integration, and with our somewhat obsessive focus on “data” of late, it even stands for intelligence. But for most CIOs, “innovation” is the word of the day. It is certainly a fun word, but it is easier to say than to deliver, especially when robust, secure and cost effective operations are still of the utmost importance.
My favorite question to ask CIOs, these days, is “How do you build a culture of innovation into your IT organization?” Paul Cassell, US CIO of NYSE Euronext, gave me a great answer:
“Innovation can be fostered, but it cannot be taught. If your people are process and execution oriented, and do not have a creative bone in their bodies, they will never be your innovators. Some IT organizations send their senior managers to a two-day innovative class, and then they try to think up the next big idea. The idea often winds up being too big to deliver, and the business never sees the value.
“When we build innovation groups, we make sure that the team leads are not selected because of their title or status. We don’t just take the most senior managers and do a few think tank sessions with them. We take a bottom-up approach and start by identifying our creative problem solvers, many of whom are at lower levels in the organization.
“If we use a baseball analogy, we go for singles and doubles instead of homeruns. This way, we can celebrate incremental innovative ideas, and then the word gets out. We encourage people to bring forward smaller ideas, and once these turn into successful projects, other people are less intimidated about sharing their own ideas. Implement a few collaboration tools that allow people to work together, and that’s when you see a mass innovation movement begin to swell. That’s how you change the culture.
“Our people are not necessarily experts at innovation. We are not a company like P&G that has spent 20 years investing in project innovation. We have to start small.”
Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.