The Chief Innovation Officer - A Symptom or a Solution?

Is a Chief Innovation Officer really necessary for truly innovative companies?


Every department and process seems to have a 'chief' these days, whether it's the Chief Strategy Officer or the Chief Finance Officer, it seems as if companies are determined to have a set of eyes overlooking each and every aspect of their teams.

In fairness, there's a considerable amount of research backing up the notion that 'chiefs' are a positive step forward. It's been reported that they bring clarity to a team's performance and help them drive towards a common goal.

When Innovation is added to the equation however, the issue for many companies is that these job titles bring a degree of rigidity that doesn't fit in with the general consensus of how modern companies should be run. If fostering innovation is the goal, a rigid organisational structure is rarely touted as a way forward. Google for example, has a flat organisational structure and doesn't employ a Chief Innovation Officer, nor do Apple, with their CEO, Tim Cook, an opponent to the title.

A company's ability to be agile is increasingly what keeps it in business. Clients demands need to be met quickly or a company risks losing contracts to its competitors, this elevates the importance of quick and efficient decision making. This does not mean that there shouldn't be management, but it's illogical to add another layer to the structure when it's not needed.

Not only does the Chief Innovation Officer represent an unwarranted layer in an organisation's structure, it also symbolises an organisational culture that promotes elitism and job title inflation. In the words of Tim Cook, 'as soon as a company has a Chief Innovation Officer you know that a company has a problem'. Innovation is a process that requires collaboration and more than anything, speed, and it's quite possible the Chief Innovation Officer adds neither of these traits to a team.  

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