Out of the blue today I got an email from one of Bank of America’s most senior executives asking me this question. “What does it mean to be a chief innovation officer?” Now I can only guess why BofA is asking. Perhaps they think they need one. Or they think their agency needs one. Either way it’s probably a good thing, suggesting the bank is thinking about how to become more innovative, either in its products or its marketing.
I could get on a crazy speculative rant about banks, innovation and lack thereof, but I won’t. I have to admit I’m actually a big fan of the BofA’s smartphone apps, especially the photo based check deposit feature which saves me from ever having to visit a branch or an ATM ever again. When it comes to banking I will always take technology over a human being.
Anyway, here’s what I wrote back, always willing to share what little I know.
In short, a chief innovation officer is responsible for any number of things.
Embrace new technologies
Your primary role is to help the organization understand and leverage the new technologies that are affecting its business. So in advertising that’s everything from digital technology to social media, the Internet of things, mobile utility, the impact of disintermediation, collaborative consumption and, yes, crowdsourcing.
Educate and inform
You should be educating and informing people as to what they can do with all of the new stuff; making it understandable in light of their daily challenges. How do you get creatives and strategists to realize what is actually possible with all the new platforms and technologies? How do you inspire them to create with those technologies?
Change processes and environment
A CIO probably needs to work on changing an organization’s structure, processes and physical space in order to foster new, more collaborative working relationships,and more importantly the collisions that lead to innovative ideas. So anything you can do to tear down the silos that encourage people to define their roles functionally will lead to more innovative thinking.
You’ll want to encourage experimentation. Most people fear change of any kind. But they especially fear technologies they don’t understand. This is especially true of senior people. They’re acutely aware of the fact that it’s hard to justify the big bucks when they know less about something than the kids working for them. But the idea of being a beginner again has them hyperventilating. So another job is to create an environment of experimentation that eliminate fear of the new.
Focus on growth
Ideally all of the above takes into consideration what you are inventing and creating as new products/services/businesses. If you make the assumption that there are only three ways to grow: sell existing products to new customers, sell new products to existing customers, develop new products and services for customers you don’t yet have, then the latter –that upper right quadrant on a BCG grid — is where innovation has to concentrate.
Finally, given that there are so many ways to define the job, it’s important to concentrate the effort on the one or two areas that matter most. In the advertising agency business, that’s been mostly on getting people to pull their heads out of their asses and embrace what’s coming instead of trying vainly to hold onto the past.
I’ve been lucky. Mullen practically made my job unnecessary as the organization itself embraces innovation, new ideas and my favorite mantra, “Live in beta.” It may be a harder chore for Bank of America.
Ben Malbon on CIOs