Is Chief Innovation Officer an oxymoron? Innovation is cultural not structural.

“Back in the day” Chief Medical officers were all men and you could tell when a new CMO had lost touch with his clinician peers when he started wearing suspenders and bow ties to look CEOish.
Almost by definition, the same is likely to happen with Chief Innovation Officers.

Here’s one description of a Chief Innovation Officer in a job posting:
The Chief Innovation Officer is responsible for managing the innovative processes within the organization that identifies strategies, business opportunities and new technologies. Develops new capabilities and architectures with partners, new business models….” (A)

As a doctoral student at the UNC School of Public in the early 1970s I was mentored by two of the thought leaders on the “diffusion of Innovation”, Drs. James E. Veney and Arnold Kaluzny. (B) There work is still a gold standard.

The innovation literature identifies a continuum of organizational innovation types, which can easily be applied to health care organizations. (C)
Innovators: When a product is put on the market the first individuals to buy the product are the ‘innovators’. This small group of people wants to be the first to try the product and they are willing to take risks. These exclusive users in this group are therefore trend setters. Subsequently, the product will become increasingly popular and sales will increase.
Early adapters: Just like the innovators, the early adapters like to try out new things and they are not afraid to invest in new products. This group is significantly larger than the ‘innovators’ group and often they already know much about the new product. Because of this knowledge they play an important role in word- of- mouth advertising with respect to the new product as a result of which sales will increase strongly.
Early majority: The early majority group loves trends, but prefers to wait and see before making a purchase. The product will be bought in droves by this group of people. The product will become extremely popular and this will cause a landslide in demand.
Late majority: The late majority group actually lags behind and will only buy the product after many other people have bought it and its popularity is already decreasing. The reason why this group does not buy the product from the start has to do with confidence in the product. This group has to be absolutely certain that they are not making a bad buy. The product is also sold frequently in this ‘late majority’ stage.
Laggards: The laggards group lags behind (consciously or unconsciously) in the trend and does not like innovation or change. It is not until the product is not much in demand anymore and is about to leave the market that this group decides to buy the product after all. The most obvious reason is that this group waits until the sales price is lowered.

Steve Jobs, perhaps the greatest innovator of his lifetime said:
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
“If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative… you have to not have the same bag of experiences as everyone else does.”

“Facebook was introduced in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg from his dorm room at Harvard University. Eight years later more than 900 million people have a Facebook account. This is a dramatic success story of the diffusion of an innovation. Normally when somebody develops a new product it can take years to get it out on the market.” (D)

Bottom line is if the CEO is not also the de facto Chief Innovation Officer, the organization will be “late majority” or “laggard“, not an “innovator” to be emulated.


“By definition, breakthrough innovation is the introduction of new ideas that drive a different way of doing things. This requires risk taking, of course, since no one can foresee the outcome or results of such initiatives. Breakthrough innovators are willing to make decisions and choices as much on the basis of intuition and insight as on data and forecasts – they bet on people rather than manage a process.” (E)

Did I just save the need for a doctoral dissertation?

(A) Chief Innovation Officer Jobs,
(B) Innovation of Health Services: A Comparative Study of Hospitals and Health Departments, by AD Kaluzny et al.
(C) Diffusion of Innovations theory, by Patty Mulder,
(D) Diffusion of Innovation
(E) Innovation and Organizational Culture, by Ralph Ohr,

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