What Are The Main Differences Between The CSO and the CINO?

Many people are confused, but in reality the roles are very different


There’s a tendency among business people to conflate strategy and innovation. They are, after all, both concerned with the actions a company must take to drive itself forward. That is, however, where the similarities end.

Unfortunately for the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO), the term ‘strategy’ is often misused. Whenever something’s described as ‘strategic’ the person saying it often wants to communicate that what they’ve been doing has been planned meticulously and is therefore likely to succeed. Sales managers often confuse strategy with tactics as well. Tactics are short-term goals, which, if met, contribute to wider organizational strategies. People who work in sales rely on tactics, because due to the nature of their job, targets have to be met quickly.

The CSO’s main role is to shape the organization’s future. Adaptation is key, as a strategy which doesn’t work from day one doesn’t necessarily mean a failed business. But a strategy shouldn’t fail. If it does, the CSO hasn’t done their job right. Instead they must identify when the company is failing, make amendments, and then strive to move the company forward.

This perception of failure is perhaps the biggest difference between the role of the Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) and the CSO. Failure is an integral part of innovation, and the CINO shouldn’t be judged on their capacity to always bring success to a company, as their projects are based around possibility, not execution. In that way, innovation works as a part of company strategy, but is in no way ‘the’ company strategy.

Clarity also serves as an important distinction. The CSO must do all they can to make company strategy as clear as possible. Everything within the proposal must be communicated in a way which everybody can get on board with, so that it can be executed as efficiently as possible. Conversely, the CINO’s role is to oversee projects which involve a lot of experimentation, something which makes them notoriously difficult to plan and forecast. The CINO - unlike the CSO - might actually inhibit their team from working to the best of their ability if they put too much emphasis on rigidity.

The average time span of a business model has reduced drastically post recession. Primarily caused by technology, it puts pressure on CSOs to adapt their company’s strategy on a regular basis so that it’s up to date with industry demands. Technological development, however, is the platform from which CINOs do their best work. Neither of them fear technology, but the CSO’s job might involve more turmoil if technology adoption is too great.

Every time an innovation initiative fails, it informs the CSO about how they should plan for future strategic success. There are, therefore, crossovers between the two, with both roles impacting company direction. Both, however, require different characteristics and quite rightly deserve their own separate places on the company’s board.


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