CIOs Are Trying To Do Innovation The Wrong Way

by drjim on July 20, 2011

Stop looking for that big bang, it's the little ones that you want…

Stop looking for that big bang, it’s the little ones that you want…

As the world slowly recovers from its great economic recession, CIOs are gearing up to help their companies do battle with their competitors. Everywhere in this great land you can hear the same words being repeated “I want more innovation!” Umm, ok. It turns out that innovation doesn’t just happen. Instead you need a whole bunch of little changes first. Maybe I should explain…

Innovation Requires Many Little Changes

All too often CIOs believe that their staff just need to spend more time sitting around thinking in order to have more of those “big bang” moments where innovative thoughts just jump in to their heads. Sadly, it turns out that things just don’t seem to work out this way.

Dr. Rosabeth Kanter has been studying how innovation works in companies and she’s discovered something that I think that we’ve all suspected for some time. It turns out in order to make the big innovative changes, companies first need to make a whole series of smaller incremental changes.

What Dr. Kanter has found is that those really big ideas that we all like to spend so much time talking about are really the result of a lot of other work. It’s the incremental changes that were put into place to change how we deal with partners or how we distribute our information that allows a CIO’s team to come up with the big innovation.

It’s All About The Pyramid

Dr. Kanter suggests that that we view innovation not as a stand-alone item, but rather as a pyramid. This pyramid consists of three different, but related, levels.

The broad base of the pyramid is made up of all of the incremental changes that need to be made in order to set the stage for greater things. Making these changes increases an IT department’s level of operational excellence.

The middle layer of the pyramid is the idea factory – this is where new and novel ideas are allowed to hatch and grow. An IT department needs to be able to allow such ideas to flourish and provide them with the resources that they need in order to grow.

Finally, at the top of the innovation pyramid are those few innovative ideas that appear to have the ability to significantly change the company. These are the ideas that need to get the IT department’s full backing and access to the additional resources and talent that will be required in order to allow them to truly transform the company.

What All Of This Means For You

Yes, IT innovation is great stuff – that’s where things like the iPhone and the Kindle came from. However, CIOs who walk around telling their teams to be more innovative are missing the point.

It turns out that in order for innovation to happen, firms have to first take the time to make lots and lots of smaller changes. You need to effectively set the stage for your innovation to happen. By doing this a CIO can create an environment in which the innovation that he or she is looking for will occur.

The “pyramid of innovation” shows that you can’t just get innovation by itself. Instead you need to get a combination package of incremental improvements and that will in turn allow innovation to happen. CIOs who master this will find that perhaps getting innovation out of their IT department is not so hard after all…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How can a CIO best encourage the IT department to create incremental improvements in order to set the stage for innovation to happen?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

One of the biggest challenges that modern CIOs face is how to do a good job of managing their IT department. The burden of making the right technology decisions, managing budgets, and meeting the needs of the rest of the company is challenging enough, but what can make or break a CIO is how good of a job you do nurturing and growing your staff. The folks at Google have the same issues and they’ve harnessed their immense computing power to come up with a solution…

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