Nowadays, innovation is little more than a buzzword for doing something new. But new is easy. Innovation, on the other hand, is hard. It’s about solving problems and creating real value. And that requires breakthrough ideas and a deep, no-holds-barred commitment to pursuing them.

Sustaining and disruptive innovation

A company follows a path of sustaining innovation when it improves a product’s performance based on feedback from its best and largest customers. It’s usually about reducing defects and making something faster or more powerful.

In contrast, a disruptive innovation often involves lower performance in many of the key features valued by the market. It often means more defects and less speed or power. A disruptive product appears as if it’s doing everything wrong. A large company with sophisticated and demanding clients can’t adopt such a technology.

The subtle, but key difference, is that sustaining innovation satisfies customers’ current needs, whereas disruptive technologies in business models evolve to meet customers’ future needs.

In case you are wondering “Why would anyone want to focus on a disruptive innovation?” allow me to tell you that startups usually have a disruptive type innovation. And we’ve seen that they have disrupted a lot of industries.

FinTech (finance and technology), AgriTech (agriculture), PropTech (real estate), EduTech (education), LawTech (law), ConstrucTech (construction), are only few that technology has changed for good.

Innovation is not only for startups

Innovation inherently means change. It means breaking the rules. It means busting norms. Most of us believe that innovation is the domain of startups, who are lean and agile and can disrupt the incumbents. This is because large companies are typically perceived as being stodgy and old-fashioned. They’re bureaucratic, it takes forever and ever to make decisions, and this is partly because there’s just so much politics in these companies as a result of which they seem to be fossilised. Individuals are reluctant to step up and take risks because this could damage their career progression, so it’s much better to be safe, rather than sorry, which is why people will not often speak up, or stick their neck out. This is one of the reasons why they’re getting disrupted. However, innovation is arguably the secret sauce to business success.

So, how do companies play to their strengths?

As we all know, if you do not innovate, sooner or later you will have to leave the market and go bankrupt. As philosophers say” Change is the only thing that is forever”. If you are not ready for the changes that happen every day you are going to lose your competitiveness and fail.

So companies need to set up an independent, innovation unit, headed by a Chief Innovation Officer (CINO), who has a separate budget and is answerable to the Chief Executive Officer. These units should be independent, and that they have permission to fail. These units can create a culture which is very different from the rest of the company.

Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) Job Description

When defining the role of CINOs, it’s important to note that the job description and responsibilities vary widely because the role is often adapted to meet the unique needs of each organisation and the specific skill sets of the individual in the role.

While, each company will have to create its own job description there are responsibilities that apply to most CINOs, such as:

  1. Formulate and communicate innovation strategy
  2. Establish a process for innovation
  3. Identify disruptive threats and opportunities based on trends
  4. Create a corporate culture that stimulates innovation
  5. Provide support for feasible ideas
  6. Organise brainstormings to discover new solutions to old problems
  7. Ensure that there is collaboration within all levels
  8. Encourages creative thinking
  9. Lead the measurement and analyses of innovation results
  10. Support best practices
  11. Develop skills
  12. Support business units for initiatives concerning new products and services
  13. Identify new market spaces
  14. Provide a budget for risky ideas

Personality Traits for Chief Innovation Officer

Understanding the traits of a good CINO is not only important for the hiring process itself but is also important when determining whether or not this role is needed in your organisation. With that in mind, here are a few traits that effective CINOs share and bring to their leadership teams:

  1. They are highly respected by all stakeholders. This person not only needs a track record of success but also needs credibility that will enable them to get everyone on board for changes and new ideas. After all, a key part of this role is getting the executive team aligned behind new innovations, so having someone that will be highly respected is a requirement.
  1. They are strategic visionaries. Individuals in this role need to be able to predict what will come next as well as communicate it. This is a difficult skill set to objectively quantify, yet strong CINOs need the skills and confidence to anticipate what is ahead for their industry and to convincingly share that information throughout their organisation.
  1. They are able to motivate and drive action. In addition to having some unique skills around innovation, a good CINO needs to have strong traditional leadership skills. Among those should be an ability to inspire individuals and to have everyone embrace their strategic vision.
  1. They know how to manage resistance. Individuals throughout all levels of organisations will challenge changes that upset the status quo. CINOs need to anticipate this reality and have the skills to hear, understand, address, and manage that resistance.


Types of Chief Innovation Officer

The Researcher
  • Defines innovation as “the invention of entirely new things”.
  • Often quieter people and can be recognised by their impressive array of degrees.
  • Thrives in environments where innovation is as much about determining the right questions as it is about finding the right answers.
  • To prosper, researchers require generous funding and strong business partners who’ll guide them toward ideas that are not just interesting but lucrative. They also need an organisation that’s willing to make near-term investments for longer-term gains.


The Engineer
  • Has little use for theories. They want to build something that works right now. They define innovation as “always working to make something a little bit better”.
  • Often hang out in product development departments and can be spotted fixing their own computers.
  • Passionate about what’s possible, impatient with what’s not, and bursting with ideas. They focus on hands-on exploration, expert brainstorming, and many tests.
  • To be effective, they need to be given a way to evaluate the feasibility and attractiveness of their solutions through prototyping and tests with real customers.


The Advocate
  • Often they start with big aspirations, especially the customer’s and they define innovation as “delivering something new to the customer” and is laser focused on the goal.
  • Know their customer and are on a mission to explore and fulfill their needs. Their focus is on keeping the brand relevant, crafting the right identity, predicting the future, and creating buzz, as well as generating sales.
  • Advocates thrive in fast-moving industries with a strong sense of fashion – of what is hot and what is not.
  • Thrive when partnered with a strategist who can discipline their thinking and channel their insights into a long-term course of action.


The Motivator
  • Defines innovation as “unlocking the ideas of others”.
  • Come from many backgrounds (and may even fall into some of the categories already mentioned), but are distinguished by their fascination with narrative, people, and talent.
  • It’s common to see organisations getting in their own way when it comes to innovation. This is where the Motivators come in: they work to unleash the employees creative spirit. That often involves getting the people and the culture focused on vision and imagination while reducing bureaucracy, complexity, and risk aversion.
  • Support of the CEO is critical to them


The Organizer
  • Defines innovation as “a clear process for coming up with new ideas”
  • Focuses on the key performance indicators, and metrics.
  • Can be highly valuable in companies where innovation efforts require wide employee participation and the real challenge is adequately managing them. Assuming there are fresh ideas to run through their processes, organisers create momentum, galvanise support, and deftly navigate politics to help innovations go from idea to reality.
  • Usually effective – but can also lose sight of the big picture. They need partners who understand customers to help them focus on the right issues


By being clear about the kind of innovation your organisation needs the most, finding the right candidate, and, ultimately, creating the right habitat — you will set your CINO up for success.


There are people who believe that you don’t need a CINO. They are claiming that you can’t delegate innovation. Innovation is a mindset—not a job title or a seat in the C-suite. To really work, innovation must be part of an organisation’s cultural fabric, and everyone has to buy in. It is much more than something you do; it is the way that your company thinks.

I totally agree with them that innovation is a mindset. But, having a chief innovation officer does not mean that all innovation is delegated to this individual; instead, this person is tasked with leading and facilitating innovation throughout the organisation. A CINO is necessary to help build that culture of innovation, lead and develop the innovation process, and help organisations stay competitive in a rapidly-changing market.

Appointing a CINO the Management board sends a strong message to all employees that innovation will be core company value.