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The other day I had the opportunity to spend some time with a team of world-class CIOs of Global 2000 companies in a private setting and hear what they had to say about innovation when "nobody" was listening. Their comments were shocking.
Risk is the most popular characteristic of innovation. We recently mentioned how our nation's leaders associated risk with some of the greatest moments in American invention and there's no shortage of academic resources pushing organizations to take greater risks in order to innovate.
But risk isn't always good for your career.
While everyone has a little envy for Steve Jobs, who has become a legend in his own right, none of these CIOs want to be him. Every CIO discussed being in a corporate environment that doesn't tolerate risk, and it wasn't something they were looking to change.
Risk represents the capital "I" in innovation, which was associated with being expensive, difficult and career terminating. The most reliable way up the corporate ladder is to come clean up after your predecessor took a risk and failed.
But CIOs want to pursue everyday innovation – the little "i". At Accept we refer to a similar concept as incremental innovation. Some CIOs shared stories where an employee's executed idea saved hundreds of millions of dollars. President Obama has formalized a program to foster this kind of internal, small "i" innovation, where government staff submit their cost-saving ideas.
The bigger an organization becomes, the harder it is to share collective brain power and have the right ideas reach the right ears – whether it's about product ideas or ways to improve logistics, save money and do things better.
I left the session feeling corrected. We always knew that our Accept360 software could work just as effectively collecting, evaluating, selecting and executing on internal ideas as product feature ideas from customers. We help companies, collect, evaluate and execute on ideas, and really that function can be applied to a broad set of circumstances, markets and audiences.
But we thought internal collaboration had been "figured out". A recent Gartner report highlighted how collaboration software vendors haven't been able to deliver compelling products that support collaborating outside the company firewall, which implies that they have done so internally.
These CIOs knew exactly what they need to get better at small "i" innovation; a better way to collect ideas and boil them down to the 1% that's executable and holds the potential to make a notable difference for the company. But nobody knew of anything that could help them.
This really took us by surprise; maybe this is what we should be doing...