Chief Disruption officer / Story Teller / Innovation Officer – has to be more than a c-suite title!

The reality of innovation driving business model disruption is plain for all to see:

Hundreds, of companies have sprouted like weeds, filling gaps in the flowery meadows of consumer demand. Often, traditional marketers haven’t even considered these small patches of ground as opportunities. Disappointed by your hotel room but don’t want to become the problem traveller? There’s Want to go to a sample sale but can’t be in Manhattan? There’s,,,, and more. Need a room in Paris? Go to Don’t want to be weighed down by books? Read your Kindle. Don’t want to own a car? There’s Zipcar, metro bikes, in addition to public transport. Can’t hail a cab, Uber, Hailo and others are there to fill the gap, often quicker and cheaper than traditional cabs.Options that didn’t exist or were not even a part of the traditional landscape have become preferred methods where consumers suddenly are putting their money down. New media platforms are tugging away at dollars once automatically allocated to traditional broadcast television. Last year, Instagram and Omnicom signed a deal that handed $50 million over to social media. Such deals have been happening slowly over the last five years in experimental pokes, but now will accelerate as the so-called agnostic media dollars slip into YouTube channels, Facebook, Twitter, Kiip and every new kid on the block.

History shows clearly large companies have failed by not seizing the opportunity, the threat to their business model presented:

Kodak invented digital film technology but, because it cannibalized their film business, failed to take the lead. For similar reasons Sony (creator of the Walkman) missed MP3 players. Coke, Pepsi, Tropicana—even Gatorade—missed energy drinks.

So how can corporations prepare for the future:

Many suggest the invention of a new role in the c suite. These range from Chief Innovation officer, Chief Digital Officer, even Chief Story Teller, and now the role of Chief Disruption Officer is being heralded as the silver bullet:

Certainly Innovation sounds like ideas, Disruption sounds like action. These are merely words it’s the actions behind them that create the change.

Group Chairman of Samsung group Lee Kun-hee declared

“Innovation is an important way to ensure a company stays ahead of its rivals. Continuous technological and business-model breakthroughs are needed to avoid falling prey to copycats,” Lee said. “Old strategies, hardware-oriented processes and corporate cultures should be boldly thrown away”

Globally there are over 1,700 Chief Digital Officers, 394 in companies larger than 5000 employees. There are over 2500 Chief Innovation officers, 485 at companies over 5000 employees.  Will the creation of another title really help companies over 5000 people deliver new revenue streams through technology based disruption?

Not surprisingly we believe it will NOT, too often it’s a superficial measure to stave off critics and make people feel good, without tangible results. Often companies don’t stick at it for long enough or do anything serious about the obstacles to performance that such appointments tend to uncover. The appointee then quietly disappears into a back office or leaves, despondent. Outsourcing innovation to a ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ has not lifted most organisations’ innovation performance. Not much has changed: leaders must have a clear vision, a clear way of getting there and be able to communicate that in different ways across the business ecosystem.

After ideation and incubation phases of innovation, it becomes the challenge of the people in an organisation to believe in and do different.  This leadership of hearts and minds comes from the top, the ability to combine ‘train your own’ and not rely on purely expensive external hires to solve the problem is at the heart of long term change.

The csuite has individuals who have full accountability for Marketing, Customer or Revenue, Technology and Operations. If these people are not willing to embrace change and possibly miss next year’s performance bonus a Digital Officer, Disruption Officer call them what you will cannot deliver against the promise of innovation. How many CEOs build a successful career and company through doing things in a certain way for 30 years then have the ability to fundamentally pivot?

Certainly agitants of change in whatever role you call them, need to work with the csuite shoulder to shoulder. But the ability to make the change real and deliver requires key ‘believers’ throughout the traditional organisation. Some will be trained and can adapt, others may need to be hired from the outside, it is this mix of change agents and how they engage that creates the formula for success. These agitants at whatever level may not be motivated in the same way as those traditionally employed, their retention may not be the key to future success, their flame may burn brightly impact others and then they become restless and move to the next challenge.  They are therefore unlikely to have the same backgrounds of steady and formulaic success through other competing corporations, that many in HR and hiring mangers look for. They may not be motivated by the cultural norms of office working that still prevail.

So by all means bring in a new c suite disruptor call them what you will, but fail to give them scope to impact across the traditional csuite, fail to bring cultural change (both internal and external) from the head down and no amount of rejigging will amount to more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Next we examine what makes a great agitant / disruptor in a large company.

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