When Jay and I stood in front of our colleagues at our recent Thought Crunch event, slyly smiling about our hand drawn magazine cover “CIO-politan”, a spoof of the women’s magazine Cosmopolitan, they looked at us like we’d gone nuts. Once we got going though, they realized that the headlines were racy but weirdly resonant for many of our clients. Imagine a CIO or CTO walking past these headlines in the grocery store line…

  • Get Innovative TODAY! 14 Tips for the HOTTEST Innovation Strategy!
  • Quiz: What kind of Innovation Relationship Are You in With Your business?
  • 7 Must-Have Moves to Drive Your CEO Wild
  • His #1 Innovation Fantasy (Clue: Focus It on His Type)
  • Crazy Innovation Confessions!
  • GROWL! Turn That Timid Team into a Tech Tiger!

Yes, it is trashy, but wouldn’t they pick it up?

Jay and I were tackling the challenge of disruptive innovation, specifically how technology leaders can help their businesses use technology to identify radical innovations before their competitors. We picked this topic because every CIO and CTO is trying to figure out how to be more innovative and there’s little practical advice out there on how to do it. There are innovation models that help analyze the problem, cultural best practices that help ensure the context is right, and even “most innovative company” awards that recognize those that have had some success. But practical advice on what to do to generate disruptive innovation is lacking.

In most companies, it isn’t even clear that the CIO should own disruptive technology innovation, but when there is none, people eagerly point their fingers at their less than strategic IT organization or their less than strategic CIO.

As Jay and I talked about our topic in advance of our day at Thought Crunch, we quickly agreed that we wouldn’t be able to get to one approach that would work with every one of our clients, but we could frame the problem using a few personas with targeted recommendations. We took a couple of CIO personas off the table: first, the CIO who has delivery challenges that require 100% focus, and second, the CIO who has innovation already “figured out”. We focused on the majority of CIOs in the middle and came to three types of disruptive innovation personas. Each one has a different problem and recommended solution:

Frustrated Futurist Frustrated-Futurist

The Frustrated Futurist CIO sees the threats and opportunities of disruptive technology innovation. Unfortunately, his business executives don’t think technology is particularly strategic. Even if they think it is relevant, they think there are better places for investment. We sometimes run across this persona in very capital intensive industries, where technology spend is minimized in order to maximize investment in “core” areas. This CIO’s objective should be to get enough traction to justify more investment. He would be best served by personally looking for the most promising idea and then figuring out a way to fund developing it “skunkworks” style. This CIO’s next steps are to brainstorm, likely with thought leaders from his organization, to come up with the best idea(s). Then pick one or two ideas to creatively weave into the budget. Gain one or two small successes and then re-assess interest from the executive team.


Scatter Brain Scatter-Brain

The Scatter Brain CIO (or CTO) is getting some pressure from her CEO, and possibly other business executives, to “be more innovative”. It isn’t clear exactly what her CEO wants, but example desires range from very incremental to completely radical innovations. In some ways, this is the hardest situation. The strategic imperative is unclear and is more of a wish than a commitment. Since the investment dedicated to disruptive innovation will likely be limited, we recommend funneling it into a focused group, rather than trying to transform the whole organization. The group could be as small as one person with help from other parts of the organization or outside vendors. This group may have a light process around picking the best ideas and funding them, but will need to be generally free from the bureaucracy around financial management and project management of the rest of the company. This CIO’s next steps are to propose a base investment related to the focused group and a light process for identifying and funding ideas.


Hot Pants Hot-Pants

The Hot Pants CIO (or more often, CTO) is in an industry where disruptive innovation isn’t just part of the strategy, it is the strategy. The company itself and its industry as a whole are likely already experiencing a fair amount of disruption related to technology. The company is in a “do or die” situation; the panic has left them unsure which way to go. This technology leader is in a strategic spot, working with his CEO and fellow executives to define a path forward that will probably result in significant business model changes. His focus on disruptive innovation needs to be much broader, spanning a large portion of his organizational scope. The company needs to reinvent the entire organization (not just the technology group, but the product group and other business areas as well) to focus on innovation. They likely need changes to their organizational design, new capabilities, re-engineered delivery methods, and cultural improvements. This CIO’s next steps are to define and implement the delivery method, and supporting organization, that will sustain disruptive (and all types of) innovation.

Every situation is unique. One of these personas may not fit perfectly. Our point of view is that considering the situation in two contexts (the external competitive landscape and the internal executive dynamics) will help determine practical next steps. It will help avoid the stops and starts around innovation that many companies are experiencing.

Expect to see more coming from Thought Ensemble on this topic. Perhaps we will even convince our marketing department to do a full magazine spoof. Until then, we’d love to hear your thoughts too.